A Rule to Comply With: Did DeWine give sports an unfunded mandate?

by Adam Clements & Stephanie Kuzydym, WKRC

Wednesday, September 30th 2020

CINCINNATI (WKRC) - Sports and money. They go together like touchdowns and celebrations.

When it comes to high school sports, athletic departments try to operate in the black. When something new is implemented, the question is normally: Where will we get the money to pay for it?

And when there is no money, it's called an unfunded mandate.

When Local 12 started our "Athletes at Risk?" project, we wanted to understand how only 37% of high schools had a full-time athletic trainer.

 “Not that we don't support it, but it would be difficult for us to put in an unfunded mandate on our schools,” then-OHSAA commissioner Jerry Snodgrass said.

Then came the shutdown of sports due to the pandemic. For them to return, Ohio Gov. Mike DeWine had a list of requirements, like the new job of a compliance officer.

“They’re going to have to have what we call a compliance person,” DeWine said during a press conference on Aug. 18. “They’re going to have to designate someone on staff who is a compliance person who makes sure everything is, in fact, being followed.”

Those requirements include items like fans wearing masks and sitting socially distanced in the stands. Local 12 Investigates reached out to area athletic directors to ask who their compliance officer was.

St. Xavier High School said they hired compliance officers.

“We're a big place and a big facility, so we'll have compliance officers,” St. Xavier Athletic Director Brian Reinhart said.

A majority of the ADs took on the job. Local 12 asked them to see how they would be compensated for their additional duty:

One AD said, "No extra compensation; just an extra duty."

Another AD said, "In kindness and grace (hopefully)."

And another answered, "Hah."

To ensure schools were complying, the OHSAA hired COVID observers.

“We send out 100 observers throughout the state each Friday night to work with the athletic administrators and just kind of go through protocols to make sure they're being followed,” OHSAA Commissioner Doug Ute said.

Since the OHSAA had to hire COVID observers, did the governor hand schools an unfunded mandate when he required compliance officers?

“That's a good question,” Reinhart said. “I think if it was normal times, it would certainly take a long time to mandate someone like that.”

“So any administrator that sees this will chuckle,” said Richard Bryant, Lakota East High School’s athletic director. “There's a little line at the bottom of my contract that says 'all other duties as assigned.' What a great catch-all.”

It's a question we will continue to ask.

From the players and coaches to the cheerleaders, bands and spectators, compliance officers have more than 25 things to comply with, and if the OHSAA’s COVID observers see that an athletic department is not in compliance, it could cause the school to forfeit the game.