IHSA payroll under scrutiny

More than one of every four employees of the Illinois High School Association — the governing body for high school sports in Illinois — gets more than $110,000 a year in pay and benefits, according to Internal Revenue Service records.

Altogether, the IHSA’s tab for “salaries, other compensation [and] employee benefits” totaled nearly $3.1 million for the last school year, 2012-2013, up 21 percent over the previous year. That’s out of a total budget of nearly $11 million, the records show.

IHSA executive director Marty Hickman received a $204,840 salary plus $16,528 in health insurance benefits, bringing his compensation to $221,368. The association also reported $77,198 in deferred compensation for Hickman, which he describes as “the present value of the pension benefit payable over my lifetime earned during that year.”

Six of the association’s other 24 employees got between $112,893 and $134,501 in salary and benefits. Each holds the title of assistant executive director and oversees different sports and business functions.

The size of the payroll is expected to be a key issue as state legislators convene a hearing Tuesday in Springfield on how the IHSA is run.

The legislative scrutiny of the private, not-for-profit operation follows complaints from some school officials and lawmakers that the IHSA should be giving a bigger cut of the money that it takes in from tournaments and other events to schools. The IHSA also has come under fire in recent months for the way it has decided cases involving athletes’ and teams’ eligibility.

The association — headquartered in downstate Bloomington and governed by a 10-member board of high school principals — says it pays employees about the same as what people make in similar organizations across the country. IHSA officials say compensation packages are designed to attract and keep top-flight employees who might otherwise decide they could make more money working for public school districts.

“For example, had Marty [Hickman] not joined the IHSA, he would be closing in on 30 years as a high school principal, or, the more likely scenario, of about 15 to 20 years as a superintendent,” IHSA spokesman Matt Troha says. “If you look at some average salaries for those positions and years, you will find the pay similar, or, more than likely, that it would be more if had they stayed in education.”

IHSA IRS filing

RELATED: IHSA tournament profits tumble as employee salaries rise

The Illinois House resolution authorizing the IHSA hearing passed 55-51 last month with support from the Illinois Press Association, of which the Chicago Sun-Times is a member, and the Illinois Broadcasters Association.

The call for hearings followed a difficult February and March for Hickman and other association officials. The IHSA handed down several high-profile eligibility decisions, and the ensuing controversies overshadowed the boys basketball tournament, the IHSA’s signature event.

On Feb. 24, Hickman ruled that three schools should be banned from the state boys basketball playoffs because they played more games during the regular season than IHSA rules allow. The IHSA had routinely applied the same rule over the years.

But this time, three days after Hickman took action, the IHSA board reversed him, deciding to allow the teams in the playoffs.

In another controversial move, the association allowed Curie High School to play in the boys basketball tournament even though the Chicago Public League had stripped the Southwest Side school of its 24 wins and city championship after an investigation found seven Curie players had been ineligible since the start of the season.

The IHSA decided that, under its bylaws, nine of Curie’s 12 players were eligible — and the Condors were even allowed to keep their No. 1 seed in the sectional round of the tournament.

But DuSable beat Curie in the semifinals of the opening regional round of the tournament, an upset that spared the IHSA the embarrassment of having a team that finished the regular season 0-25 possibly advance to the state finals.

The Class 3A and 4A state championship games on March 22 were overshadowed by another drama. This one played out all day that Saturday following Hickman’s decision to suspend Stevenson star Jalen Brunson for the third-place game after a photographer caught Brunson flashing what appeared to be an inappropriate hand gesture to the crowd at the semifinal game the day before.

Hickman suspended Brunson the morning of the third-place game. Then, before that game and the championship game, Hickman left for a planned family vacation.

Stevenson administrators, lawyers and Brunson’s family then met that afternoon with other IHSA officials, and the ruling stood.

But minutes before the game was set to start, the IHSA’s board overruled Hickman, letting Brunson play after all.

“He made his decision and then left, went on vacation,” Jalen Brunson’s father, Rick Brunson, a former NBA player who played on teams including the Bulls, says of Hickman. “He told them it was a planned vacation. How can you plan a vacation on the day of the biggest event of the year?

“He made his decision on Jalen based on the photo. He never saw the video, never spoke to us.”

Says Hickman: “I had planned to be on vacation for months and left as I had planned to do. We have a variety of championships, and there is no reason to expect that I need to be at any or all of them for them to run.

“It’s fairly routine that I wouldn’t be at any or all events for the entirety that they run. I won’t be at our bass fishing tournament all weekend, and it’s going to be fine.”

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