4 million reasons why Illinois lawmakers are looking at high school sports takeover


By Benjamin Yount | Illinois Watchdog

SPRINGFIELD, Ill. — The Illinois Legislature certainly does not want to administer the state’s high school chess tournament, but lawmakers wouldn’t mind getting a piece of the millions of dollars high school basketball and high school football bring in each year.

THIS IS NOT WHY: The IHSA runs the state chess tournament, but that’s not why lawmakers have their eye on the group.

A plan heading to the Illinois House could begin a set of hearings that could end with a state takeover of the Illinois High School Association.

The IHSA is in charge of all high school sports and events, everything from football to girls’ volleyball to the annual high school journalism contest.

The organization, though it works with public schools, is a private nonprofit group.

And a revenue generating machine.

The IHSA’s annual reports show the organization brought in almost $11 million for the 2013-2013 school year.

The annual state football championship alone brought in $2.1 million. The boys’ basketball tournament earned the IHSA $2 million.

Girls’ sports are not such big money makers, but they do bring in a few bucks. The girls’ basketball tournament earns $740,000 and the girls’ volleyball tournament earned $507,000 last year.

There are just as many sports that lose money — the state tennis tournaments for boys and girls earn a whopping $250, but cost about $50,000 to host.

State Rep. Linda Chapa LaVia, the suburban Democrat pushing for the hearings, told The Southern Illinoisan she wants to know why the IHSA is not accountable under the state’s open meetings act and why the group sets media policies that have restricted access to public school events.

“It’s just that we want to throw some transparency and light on it to make sure we’re working in harmony,” Chapa Lavia told the newspaper. “All I’d like to do is have them come to us and answer a lot of questions.”

Lawmakers may be willing to ask the questions, but there is a growing backlash against any plan to hand over the IHSA’s duties — and dollars — to the state board of education.

Contact Benjamin Yount at Ben@IllinoisWatchdog.org and find him on Twitter @BenYount.