HJR 239

Joint Subcommittee to Study Commercial Promotional Activities in High Schools

August 28, 2000, Richmond

Authorized pursuant to HJR 239, the joint subcommittee, in its first meeting, established the organization of the subcommittee and was provided essential background information.


The enabling resolution for this study notes the growth and emphases on athletics in secondary schools, including middle schools, and the pressure on public school athletes to perform well. The resolution also acknowledges that public schools are always looking for ways to enhance their funding, particularly for expensive activities such as sports; therefore, the escalating costs of sports equipment and apparel make arrangements with apparel companies very attractive. Recent controversies have arisen concerning the sponsorships of summer camps and the incentives provided to young athletes to wear certain athletic shoes, which present the potential for serious conflict between principals, teams, school boards, coaches, athletic association officials, parents, and players. Therefore, the subcommittee is directed by HJR 239 to:

1. Examine the legal and ethical issues related to athletic apparel companies, particularly shoe manufacturers, and other companies providing gifts to schools and individuals as a quid pro quo for some advertising benefit, such as display of company logos on school property and having team members wear the company's apparel.

2. To discuss the following topics:

  • disclosure issues,
  • player eligibility issues,
  • parental rights issues,
  • school finance considerations,
  • contract issues, and
  • the benefits and drawbacks of advertising displays.

3. To make recommendations designed to assist Virginia schools in avoiding controversies relating to commercial promotional activities.

Virginia High School League

The Virginia High School League (VHSL) is the organization governing interscholastic sports and many other interscholastic activities between public high schools in Virginia. Because many of the issues related to this study concern the definition and limitation of amateur status, the joint subcommittee first received a review of the relevant rules of the VHSL from the principal of James River High School in Chesterfield County.

Membership in the VHSL is voluntary; however, virtually every public high school belongs to the organization, with the concurrence of the local school board. Under VHSL rules, all students must have parental consent to participate in any school sports and must have received a physical examination by a physician or nurse practitioner. Recruitment or proselytizing is prohibited and all-star games cannot be promoted, managed, or supervised by VHSL member school officials or representatives. Athletic contests cannot be scheduled or played on Sundays, except under unusual circumstances. Students are eligible to compete for eight consecutive semesters from the first semester they are enrolled in ninth grade.

All student athletes must be "amateurs," defined as "one who engages in athletic competition solely for the physical, mental, social and pleasure benefits derived therefrom." Appropriate awards may be given to schools and to individuals, such as trophies, certificates, cups, jackets, ribbons, T-shirts, pictures, plates, and medals. Amateurs are not allowed to receive cash or gift certificates or any other negotiable document as an award for playing sports. Although student athletes are allowed to be paid for teaching, supervising, or officiating in an organized sports program, athletes lose amateur status by

  • accepting pay of any kind for playing a sport;
  • signing a contract or otherwise committing to play professional sports;
  • entering into any agreement with an agent or other person to negotiate a professional contract;
  • accepting payment for expenses "beyond actual and necessary travel, room and board expenses for practice and competition in that sport";
  • accepting preferential treatment, benefits or services (such as deferred loans and club memberships which are not provided to all of the group regardless of athletic ability);
  • accepting prizes, etc., for more than $500 per event;
  • receiving any compensation or consideration for the use of his name, picture, endorsement of anything or personal appearance; or
  • using a false name while participating in the sport for which he claims amateur status.

Virginia Beach Policy

The Virginia Beach Public School Division is far ahead of the curve, having already developed a policy on corporate sponsorship and established a sponsorship review committee to evaluate and approve or disapprove applications to enter into these relationships. The Sponsorship Review Committee, as established by the Virginia Beach School Board, includes the assistant superintendents for high school administration and accountability, the directors of business services and student leadership, and the purchasing agent. The principal of any school asking for review sits as a nonvoting member of the committee during its deliberations. The assistant superintendents for middle school education or elementary school education sit as members if the applicant is a middle or elementary school.

The Virginia Beach School Board prohibits contracts for corporate or other private sponsorships involving or presenting the perception of involving hostility or violence; ethnic, racial or religious attacks; discrimination; promotion of drugs, alcohol, tobacco or firearms; promotion of sexual, obscene or pornographic activities; or promotion of "any image that is not in keeping with the established goals and purposes of the Virginia Beach City Public Schools as determined by the school principal or the Superintendent/Superintendent's designee." All sponsorships must meet these criteria. Applications for sponsorships that appear to violate one or more of these prohibitions and applications from religious organizations are forwarded to legal counsel for review.

Principals are allowed to contract for their schools for sponsorships which meet the established criteria for one school year or for $5,000 per year in value. The director of business services contracts for division-wide sponsorships on behalf of the Virginia Beach School Board after approval by the Sponsorship Review Committee. Sponsorship arrangements involving signs no larger than 4 feet by 8 feet, banners, publications and advertisements or messages, and announcements may be approved for a specific school by the school principal or the school principal and the assistant superintendent for administrative support.

Other sponsorship activities (e.g., involving expanded use of the school facilities, athletic team uniforms, classroom or athletic materials, selling a sponsor's goods, etc.) must be submitted to the Sponsorship Review Committee. Any sponsorship involving division-wide interscholastic activities, in excess of $5,000 in cash or in kind, or a term of more than one-school year must be submitted to the Sponsorship Review Committee.

In addition to making decisions on sponsorship applications, the committee is charged with reviewing the school board's sponsorship policy and rules, collecting data on sponsorships, monitoring school compliance, providing annual reports to the school board and the superintendent on these matters, providing advice to principals and the director of business services on sponsorships, maintaining committee records, and receiving, reviewing, and reporting complaints about sponsorships to the school board and the superintendent.

Fairfax County Task Force

The deputy superintendent of Fairfax County Public Schools spoke to the joint subcommittee concerning why Fairfax has recently established a citizen task force to examine school funding and advertising issues. Fundraising activities in Fairfax are conducted by PTAs and booster clubs. However, in Northern Virginia, where high tech companies abound, the issues have become more complex than the simple fundraisers of past years. Some examples of these new and more difficult issues are: the appropriateness of fund-raising websites, linking PTA websites to commercial sites in order to raise funds, offers of free internet access (with and without advertising benefits for the offeror), proposals to establish school foundations at the individual school level, and the surge of contests sponsored by pizza companies, retailers, and others.

A lack of uniformity among the schools on the various policies was also one of the reasons for establishing the task force. The task force is considering such issues as the appropriateness of the new revenue sources versus commercialization of the schools, who should control the revenues and how the money should be used, equity between schools in affluent areas and those in less prosperous neighborhoods, and the personnel requirements for regulating these activities if they expand significantly.

AAU Position

The director of marketing, public relations and communications for the Amateur Athletic Union (AAU) of the U.S.A., Inc., addressed the joint subcommittee concerning the AAU position on the issues relating to the key role played by community-organized teams and leagues in the national controversy concerning amateurism and recruitment.

The AAU spokesman contested the assumptions concerning the AAU which were made in the recently published book, Sole Influence: Basketball, Corporate Greed, and the Corruption of America's Youth by Dan Wetzel and Don Yaeger, two nationally known basketball journalists. In particular, the book describes the activities of an individual who coached some boys' basketball teams and held AAU membership. This individual was described in the book as a "former crack dealer" and as an AAU coach. He has recently been charged with a number of counts of federal felony violations, including fraud relating to payments made to basketball players for participating in summer competition and the filing of forms with various universities avowing amateur status for these basketball players. Several counts relating to failure to file income tax returns for certain years in which large sums of money were received are also included in the complaint.

The AAU was described as a respected organization in national sports and as a voting member of the United States Olympic Committee. The AAU is an event-driven organization which sponsors national championships and does not have teams, hire coaches or recruit athletes. The AAU representative stated that the allegations included in the book are untrue. He provided the joint subcommittee with publications detailing the history of AAU and the AAU position on this controversy. He also noted the many misconceptions caused by the national media attention; specifically, the individual at the center of the summer basketball controversy was not an AAU member from 1996 and his team was ineligible for and did not play in AAU contests. The AAU is working to develop solutions to the issues presented by summer basketball with the National Federation of State High School Associations and its 50 state high school association members (such as the Virginia High School League).

In answer to questions concerning screening of AAU members classified as coaches, the AAU spokesman noted that the National Board of Review for the AAU has removed 20 to 30 members annually on the basis of complaints. Several questions also addressed the legal nexus between the AAU and the athletes, the number of basketball tournaments per year organized by the AAU, and the corporate sponsorships of AAU tournaments.

Work Plan

The meeting ended with a discussion of the issues and possible direction for the study. The joint subcommittee tentatively agreed to a study plan for the three remaining meetings, which includes a round table discussion of the issues with various stake holders, a combination presentation/public hearing, and a work session. The next meeting of the joint subcommittee has been scheduled for October 30 at 1:00 p.m.

The Honorable Robert Tata, Chairman
Legislative Services contact: Norma E. Szakal