Iowa alone in governing boys' and girls' high school sports separately

Critics say new TV deal underscores quest to support six-figure salaries

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Iowans love high school sports and if you make it hard for them to watch state championships, they’re going to ask why.

What Iowans should be asking, some school administrators say, is why Iowa is the only state in the nation with separate groups governing boys’ and girls’ sports, despite the cost of paying two sets of executives, financial deficits on the boys’ side and disparities between the two groups.

“Do you think boys and girls should be segregated in the classroom because they take algebra for different reasons?” asked Mark Schneider, superintendent of the Mid-Prairie and Keota school districts. “We don’t because it’s discrimination.”

A new TV contract between Comcast SportsNet Chicago and the Iowa High School Sports Network — which has exclusive broadcasting rights to most audio, video and promotion of boys’ state championships — has made it so that many central and western Iowa fans can’t watch high school athletes compete at state tournaments because they don’t receive CSN Chicago.

This has ignited a firestorm among fans, with so many complaining to the Iowa High School Athletic Association, which governs boys’ sports, that the group released an apologetic message Feb. 7:

“We hope you will understand it is a very complicated situation with few options, none of which involved 100 percent statewide access to the state championships,” the statement read. “The Comcast contract is for two more years and we want everyone to know we are working diligently, and are fiercely committed to finding a better solution in the future for Iowans to have viewing access to the Iowa Boys State Championship Events.”

The CSN Chicago situation is the latest slide down what Schneider thinks is a slippery slope to commercializing high school boys’ sports. The contract with the network is worth $730,000 over 10 years, the association reported.

“Now we have television shows that mimic ESPN shows about who’s playing who and tournament play,” Schneider said. “The boys’ association now even is promoting having people fill out brackets. It’s becoming too commercialized. Now it’s all about the money. You have to support all those salaries somehow.”

Two groups

The salaries he’s talking about are those of the executives at the boys’ athletics association, founded in 1906, and its sister agency, the Iowa Girls High School Athletic Union, created in 1926.

“Girls weren’t allowed to play high school sport in the 40s in 50s, like (they were) in Iowa,” said Jean Berger, who started in July as the union’s first female executive director. The organization oversees 10 sports played by 70,000 female high school athletes, according to its website.

The boys’ association had expenses of $6.81 million in fiscal 2015, the most recent year of Form 990 tax forms available. Revenue was $6.67 million, which means it had a $147,600 deficit. The fiscal 2015 loss was on top of deficits of $445,134 and $267,837 the previous two years, tax forms show.

“Part of that loss on paper has to do with an addition we built on our building,” said association Executive Director Alan Beste. The group used some of its revenue to cover the cost of the $400,000 addition to its Boone headquarters. “Going into this year, it will no longer affect our bottom line.”

The boys’ association spent $2.23 million on employee compensation and benefits in fiscal 2015 and had five employees who received more than $100,000 each in total compensation.

Richard Wulkow, who retired Jan. 30, 2015, after 10 years as executive director, was paid $282,033 in total compensation in fiscal 2015. This included a base salary of $235,106 and other compensation, including deferred compensation, of $46,927. He also got a $9,000 spending account for “dining, entertainment and like incidental expenses,” the tax form notes.

Beste’s salary and benefits for fiscal 2016 were worth $232,831, he told The Gazette.

The girls’ athletic union spent $3.56 million in fiscal 2015 and made $3.87 million for a $308,000 gain, its tax form shows. The group spent $1.28 million on employee compensation and benefits and had three employees paid more than $100,000 each.

Mike Dick, the girls’ group’s executive director until he retired in August, was paid $185,699 total compensation in fiscal 2015, including $17,693 deferred comp.

neighboring states

One of the main arguments for combining boys’ and girls’ athletic groups is reducing administrative costs, which could lead to lower championship ticket prices or less of a need for a paying TV contract.

The Gazette looked at neighboring states, all of which have joint governing groups for girls’ and boys’ sports.

The $10.4 million combined fiscal 2015 expenses of the Iowa groups nearly matched expenses of the Illinois High School Association, which governs girls’ and boys’ sports in a state with more than four times as many people.

Wulkow, the now retired director of the Iowa boys’ association, was paid more that year than the executive directors from associations in Wisconsin, Minnesota, Missouri and Nebraska who oversaw both boys’ and girls’ sports.

The Missouri State High School Activities Association governs not just sports but chess, debate, cheerleading, music, the scholar bowl, target shooting and bass fishing.

“Having it all under one umbrella, one governing body, means there’s not separate interpretations,” said Jason West, communications director for the Missouri group. “We have 590 schools and we need to make it as equal as possible to all 590.”

Missouri runs all boys’ and girls’ tournaments at the same time, like Iowa’s state track meet or state bowling tournament. This means if your school is fortunate enough to have both boys’ and girls’ teams qualify for postseason play, fans could watch both games on the same day in the same venue.

The fiscal 2015 budget for the Missouri activities association was $8.1 million — $2 million less than the combined budgets of the Iowa girls’ and boys’ organizations.

Separate, not equal

Iowans periodically ask why Iowa has separate organizations for boys and girls, Beste said. But school administrators on the group’s board haven’t pushed for changes, he said.

“If the schools wanted to have one organization, they have the power to do that,” Beste said.

Berger said the girls’ athletic union should remain separate because of the unique needs of the “Iowa girl.”

“Girls come to the table to participate for different reasons than boys,” she said. “When you talk with young boys, they focus more on winning. (With girls) it has to be fulfilling.”

Berger said girls have self-esteem issues not often present in boys.

Cedar Rapids Superintendent Brad Buck, who served on the union’s board of directors in 2014, agrees with Berger about the importance of focusing on girls’ needs.

“For as many people I heard saying we should consolidate, there was as many saying we shouldn’t,” he said. However, efficiency of the groups is important. “When I was on that board, we talked about ticket prices for tournament games. There is a great deal of concern that the cost of the organization is kept efficient and low,” he said.

Men dominate the decision-making bodies for the girls’ union. The eight-member board has two women, and a 12-person representative council has only one woman.

“We can and need to do better,” Berger said about finding female advisers. Part of the reason for the male-heavy boards is that state law requires the groups be drawn from school administrators, most of whom are men, she said.

Several educators said the boys’ and girls’ associations don’t provide equal treatment to the genders.

“The girls’ association isn’t as strong as the boys’ association and that part is upsetting to me,” said Kay Heiberger, girls’ bowling coach at the Western Dubuque school district and a member of the girls’ athletic union’s bowling advisory group.

Heiberger and her husband, Al, own Cobra Lanes bowling alley in Farley and coach boys’ and girls’ bowling.

When Al Heiberger takes his team to the state tournament, a photographer snaps photos of each boy at the tournament and posts them on a website where parents can order images. Female bowlers don’t get that, Kay Heiberger said.

Boys’ bowling coaches get plaques, girls’ coaches do not, she added.

Schools pay $50 to join the girls’ union, compared with $2 for the boys’ group. TV coverage is another difference.

The girls’ athletic union has a contract with Iowa Public Television to broadcast across the state championships in girls’ basketball, volleyball, softball and soccer, Berger said. The union gets no money for this partnership, which also provides for IPTV to stream the events online.

“The trade-off is for us to get statewide access,” Berger said. “It’s a different model than the boys.”

Why no study?

Before Berger was hired would have been an ideal time to study merging the groups, said Mary Jo Hainstock, superintendent of the Vinton-Shellsburg school district.

“I’m not aware there was a real process with multiple stakeholders present,” she said. “If I really believed there was a thorough vetting and it was transparent, I would have more confidence.”

She dismissed the argument girls have special needs when it comes to sports governance.

“When the girls’ athletic association was founded, there definitely needed to be a focus on equality and support,” Hainstock said. “But in 2017, most of those barriers have been eliminated or reduced.”

Schneider, from Mid-Prairie and Keota, is worried the increased emphasis on TV broadcast will push schools to play games on days and times that work for TV, but aren’t always conducive to learning.

This has happened in college sports, where top matchups are jammed into evening prime time and game times aren’t set until days before.

“What happened at the pro level has now moved down to the college level. Now it’s moving down to the high school level,” he said. “Let’s get back to what it should be.”

l Comments: (319) 339-3157; erin.jordan@thegazette.com

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