The outfit that has ruled school sports in Massachusetts with an iron fist for decades has now, it seems, fallen on hard financial times.
Hopefully, its tribulations will provide the impetus for long-overdue change at an organization that touches the lives of student-athletes across the Commonwealth.
The Massachusetts Interscholastic Athletic Association, the nonprofit that runs school tournaments and often has the last word on who gets to play — and who doesn’t — has, according to a Globe report, encountered some financial difficulties. Many of its current woes are traceable to generous salaries and raises, and to an equally generous retirement plan that will benefit its executive director, William Gaine Jr., who has been at the organization (except for a one-year gap) since 1979.
The now 75-year-old Gaine, who serves as executive director of the MIAA and the Massachusetts School Administrators’ Association (and has since 2012), received total compensation of $291,000 last year, including a base salary of $196,000 from the MIAA and $50,000 from the MSAA. He’ll be able to retire with a pension of $114,000 from the two organizations, plus other forms of deferred compensation to which the associations have contributed.
Compensation for Gaine’s four-member executive staff totaled $772,000 in 2018. The MIAA payroll for 29 employees rose 22 percent between 2015 and 2018, to $1.3 million. At the same time, the organization’s federal tax returns showed a deficit of $684,000 over the last two years.
Gaine, who is under contract until 2021, and the outgoing board president, Marilyn Slattery (she’ll be succeeded in July by Jeff Granatino), blame the deficit in part on lagging tournament attendance, especially an ill-advised move of the MIAA’s 2016 basketball finals from Worcester to Springfield that caused revenues to drop by more than $217,000.
At the heart of the matter, however, isn’t just a problematic balance sheet but an old boys’ network that has operated with few, if any, checks and balances, and long overstayed its welcome. Its 22-person board includes four women and not one representative from such population centers as Boston, Worcester, or Springfield.
It may be a 501(c)(3) charitable organization, but, under a longstanding Supreme Judicial Court decision, the MIAA is also a “state actor.” It holds enormous power over young student athletes and has not always used it wisely — incurring unnecessary hardship for the athletes along with unnecessary litigation.
For many youngsters, athletic achievement can be the path to college and to a scholarship. So when the MIAA said junior Chibuikem Onwuogu couldn’t play basketball for St. Mary’s in Lynn after transferring from Peabody High — the MIAA insisted he had been “recruited” — his father sued. A judge’s injunction allowed him to play — and make the Globe’s All-Scholastics all-star team for 2018-19.
It was around that time that Gaine complained at a board meeting that his biggest headache was “parents taking us to court.”
It was also on Gaine’s watch that Emily Nash, a Lunenburg High junior, won the Central Massachusetts Division 3 golf competition in the fall of 2017, only to be denied a chance to compete in the MIAA fall tournament because, well, girls are supposed to play in the spring. And, yes, she shot from the boys tee, just like her male teammates.
The current financial mess, now the focus of the attention of its incoming board president and at least a handful of those involved in student sports, ought to provide the impetus for a long overdue housecleaning.
But getting a handle on the budget is only the first part; the MIAA needs a push into the 21st century. It needs a broader representation from the state’s urban areas on its board and a fresh look at its decision-making processes — one that takes into account the hopes and dreams of all young athletes.