A little more than a month ago, Robin Hines jumped right into one of the hottest and most contentious seats in Georgia education and political circles.
Hines, the former Houston County School District superintendent and Northside principal, replaced Gary Phillips on June 1 as the executive director of the GHSA, the governing body for athletics for the state’s public schools and a significant number of private schools.
The position requires a lot of juggling. Hines answers to a 66-member executive committee with diverse interests and also a smaller board of trustees that has the power to make emergency decisions. He also becomes the target of legislative scrutiny, with some state senators and representatives wanting to go so far as to remove the GHSA’s governing authority and install a new state high school athletics association.
That threat of legislative action, backed by bills floated in this year’s legislative session, forced Phillips out of his position. Hines, whose career includes time spent as a teacher and a football coach, is certainly familiar with the state’s educational system but joins the GHSA as an outsider who had not previously worked in the association’s Thomaston office or was not a member of the executive committee at the time of his hiring as executive director.
Hines recently visited The Telegraph for a question-and-answer session.
Q: The situation that you stepped in as the new executive director, there are a lot of debates, a lot of situations that people were looking to resolve but haven’t gotten to a consensus yet. Open enrollment, transfers and recruiting are perhaps foremost among them. Where do things stand?
A: I feel like we need to do some tweaking at some point, but the time frame is not good for us to do that. For instance, the 50 percent sit-out rule that was bantered around (and tabled in May by the GHSA executive committee), without taking a deeper look at that, we may have set ourselves up for failure. When you’re looking at upwards of 9,000 transfers a year, we have to figure out a way to attack that situation without so much paperwork and that type of thing.
We’re a small office. There are 14 employees of the Georgia High School Association; I don’t think people realize that. Of course, we’re going to follow the rules and do those things and work under the bylaws and the (GHSA) constitution sets for us by the executive committee.
When you look at those bylaws and what they have regarding transfers right now as it is, there’s the migratory rule, which certainly applies in most of those cases, which is basically a year sit-out rule. Maybe tweaking that situation and applying some resources to allow for some more investigations and that sort of thing.
The key to all of this is to instill integrity in all of our schools. For instance, if a student moves from one school to another, especially if they’re a blue-chipper, we want to make sure those schools ask the right questions and investigate fully themselves. We don’t have the staff to go out and address 458 member schools all the time. It will take a team effort on the entire body.
Q: There seems to be a consensus that came out of the May executive committee meeting to take a deep breath before voting on any new transfer rules. Was it a healthy move to slow down the rush to put in any new rules?
A: I think they were smart to do that. Jay Russell, who is the assistant executive director, did a great job explaining it and explaining what the process would be with the Georgia High School Association office.
The rules, the policies that are in place now, the bylaws, if everyone follows those, we’re not going to have a problem. We’re not opposed to making some tweaks and changes here and there with what we need to do, we just want to do a good job and make sure the playing field is level and the integrity of the game is upheld.
Q: Isn’t the transfer situation something a lot of states are dealing with right now, the desire on one hand to allow the student-athlete to have the choice of school they want to go to yet at the same time have a situation where there’s not overt, out-and-out athletics recruiting going on?
A: That’s the society we live in today. That’s one of the great similarities between working as a superintendent in a school system and the role that I’m filling now. There are going to be many issues that we’re going to be dealing with in the future. The home-school situation is one of those. School choice is another one of those. As we move in that direction, as our society is, we’re going to have to figure out the right way to deal with it.
Q: There have been some dealings back and forth between the GHSA and the legislature through the years, and it came to a head this past year. How much have you been able to work with the legislature so far, and how are you approaching that?
A: It’s important, when our legislators have concerns about what’s going on, that’s coming as a result of parents and students and schools that we serve, and we want to address those.
We want to provide great customer service for our customers. That’s our students, our member schools, the administrators, the parents. We certainly put the legislators in that group, as well. Many of them have reached out to me, and I’ve certainly reached out to them. I want to create as many opportunities as I can to forge those relationships.
My pledge is to have an open, transparent office. If there are issues that are surrounding our budgeting process or our expenditures, that sort of thing, I want to make those things available for those people so they understand empirically why we make the decisions that we make. I seriously think that is all anybody is asking for, from our member schools to our legislative bodies.
I view them as the support structure and our friends and allies. We want to make sure those relationships are strong.
Q: Looking at the upcoming school year, the GHSA has the chance this December to move the football championships into the Falcons’ new stadium, Mercedes-Benz Stadium. What opportunities does the GHSA have with this potential move?
A: It’s a beautiful building and a great facility. A couple of weeks ago, I went with a couple of our folks, and we met with folks there at the stadium and the Falcons staff. It is really awesome.
When you compare the Mercedes-Benz Stadium to the (Georgia) Dome, and the Dome was great, the Dome was 1.4 million square feet. This is 2 million square feet. It is something to behold, and I know everyone is going to want to get in there and see that, and we certainly hope that they do.
We’re in the process now of negotiating, going back and forth. It’s a new group, and they’re great to work with. We just have to hammer out all the details to get the contract to where it’s squared away and agreeable to the both of us. We’re not ready to do that right now, but it’s certainly our intention to play there. It’s going to be a unique experience for everybody.
Q: The basketball finals this past year moved from Macon to college campuses, and Friday night at Georgia Tech was a sellout. There’s still a lot of talk about the move from Macon. Has a decision been made about the 2018 finals?
A: We had great success with Georgia and Georgia Tech. That went really well for us. Attendance was great. It was a boon for us, and that would be our plan to do right now. We haven’t ruled anything out for the future.
Macon is a great place. It’s a good, central location. It’s a spot for us to have many of our championships and competitions and this sort of thing. But we want to make sure that we’re doing the right thing and the facilities are what we need them to be to provide a great experience for our student-athletes.