The blunder of Boone

BY ART CULLEN

Unless you have a satellite TV service, you probably won’t be able to watch the boys’ state wrestling or basketball tournaments. That’s because the Iowa High School Athletic Association sold off all rights to boys tournaments to a private firm that in turn sold the broadcast rights to Comcast Sports Network of Chicago. Storm Lake’s two cable systems do not carry the CSN channel.

And how much did Iowa schools get for blacking out western Iowa from TV coverage?

$60,000.

That’s probably about a fifth of the executive director’s salary at IHSAA.

A pittance.

The rights were sold for 10 years to Ken Krogman, who put together a company called Iowa High School Sports Network. It restricts access to taxpayer-funded events for newspapers and broadcasters. The athletic association will not reveal its terms with Krogman, or the terms of Krogman’s contract with Comcast. IHSAA claims it does not have to make public any of its documents because it is not a public body. But every school district pays dues, supported by taxpayers, to the organization so that it may supply referees the likes of which Storm Lake fans were assailing against Sioux City East on Tuesday.

The teams are sponsored by parents selling burgers at baseball games, by coaches who work for peanuts, by athletic directors paid by taxpayers, and by superintendents who supervise IHSAA.

Yet we are told that we cannot watch these tournaments unless we buy Dish or DirectTV.

We would like to know if this contract with Krogman can be broken, since it does not satisfy IHSAA’s purported terms that Krogman would make the tourneys available on primary channels statewide, such as through the Sioux City TV stations. But we cannot know if the terms have been violated because IHSAA claims it is not a public body.

We do not know that a court has yet defined whether IHSAA falls under the Iowa Public Records law. We believe it does, since it is a creation of public entities. It is similar to a foundation set up by public agencies, and these foundations have been declared by the Iowa Supreme Court to be subject to public scrutiny.

The Iowa Freedom of Information Council is working on determining if IHSAA may operate in secret legally. The boys in Boone will not like what they hear.

Already, they are hearing from politicians who are outraged that tax-supported activities are blacked out from most Iowa television viewers. Sen. Randy Feenstra, R-Hull, where they take their basketball deadly serious, is on the case. Again, the boys from Boone will not like how their ears feel after that assault.

The Iowa Girls Athletic Union has been providing comprehensive tournament coverage for many years through Iowa Public Television. Its spokesman extolled the virtues of their relationship — which involves no money — in one of a series of columns by Scott Byers of the N’West Iowa Review in Sheldon. Byers broke the story that the western two-thirds of the state would be blacked out by the Comcast deal, which runs two years.

IHSAA says there is nothing it can do about this year.

It thus admits it is incompetent to manage its own tournaments.

The tournaments should be offered to Iowa Public Television exclusively at no charge to anyone.

It is one thing to wall off Hawkeye fans through the Big Ten Network, owned by Fox. The University of Iowa makes millions of dollars a year so it can pay Kirk Ferentz millions of dollars a year. Iowa did not sell its soul for $60,000. At least they maintain a classy price to their ethics in Iowa City.

The Iowa High School Athletic Association sold us all out for nothing.

We paid for these high schools. We paid for the coaches and school buses and cheerleader uniforms. What do we get in return from IHSAA? Blackouts. Free speech restrictions. Angry legislators.

If IHSAA can’t fix it — that is, so every Iowan can watch the boys’ tournaments for free on TV, and so every radiocaster is free to call the game the way he sees fit, and so every press photographer has a right to witness the event courtside — then we should dismantle the organization entirely. We don’t need it anyway. The athletic directors already do all the work. They could organize the tournaments, too, and hire the refs. We’re sure the Iowa Broadcasters Association would be happy to work out a deal.

IHSAA has broken its trust with Iowans, plain and simple.

It negotiated an awful deal and threw away our privilege to view these games on TV for a pittance. And now its bosses say they can do nothing. We were sold down the river by the boys in Boone.