At the heart of the current sanctioning discussions - and sometimes arguments that threaten to disrupt major meets for many seasons to come - are the rules of eligibility.
Casual and experienced observers of the sport just can't imagine that there isn't an easy solution out there somewhere. After all, there's a national organization whose job it is to guide the state associations. And if you look closely at all the rules of the games the athletes play, there don't seem to be many problems agreeing on those rules - the rules of competition. A staggered start is a staggered start.
But the solution to the eligibility problems has become a problem of staggering proportion.
Simply, the National Federation of State High School Associations (NFHS), exists to establish and interpret the rules of competition. And when it comes to those rules, most states have signed off on, and voluntarily adhere to, the entire rulebook. If they don't, they get a sanctioning of sorts - more on that in a minute.
It's when you enter the gray world of eligibility that things get strange.
NFHS is responsible for establishing and interpreting the rules of competition in 16 high school sports. The individual states - along with every league, association or school that operates independently of the single NFHS-affiliated association in their state - are responsible for establishing and interpreting the rules of eligibility in each of those sports.
No wonder it's confusing.
According to NFHS Assistant Director Cynthia Doyle, the organization has some strong influence when it comes to the rules of competition. If a state association decides they would like to deviate from the those rules, "... they forfeit their chance to sit on our committee that changes those rules. We have a few states that don't comply on number of events." According to the 2004 General Track Survey - a thorough NFHS study of everything from how many states use the Chip at their state meet, to the number of events an athlete may enter at their state meet - shows that more than 20% of the states permit participation in five and more events. Most meet the NFHS rule of four or fewer events, so they get to interpret the rules.
But that's an entirely different issue than eligibility.
Because the state associations affiliated with NFHS are essentially private entities; with some administered by the state department of education; every state, according to Doyle, "has the autonomy to determine who represents them in meets."
The bottom line is, when it comes to allowing homeschool athlete participation, competition against non-member schools, middle school varsity participation, and every other standard of eligibility - it's the states that are in charge.
It's not simple. But it does explain why solutions will not be as easy as you'd think, Then again, solutions may be as simple as one person calling another.