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Phil Anastasia: NJSIAA still out of touch on ticket issue

One of the things you often hear from NJSIAA officials with regard to ticket prices and Assemblyman John Burzichelli (D., Gloucester) is that it's not the 1950s anymore.

One of the things you often hear from NJSIAA officials with regard to ticket prices and Assemblyman John Burzichelli (D., Gloucester) is that it's not the 1950s anymore.

Guess what? It's not the 1970s, 1980s, or 1990s, either. It's not even 2009.

It's 2010. This is New Jersey. Police and firefighters are looking at layoffs. Same goes for teachers. High school athletic departments are cutting freshman programs and slashing schedules, coaching staffs, and travel for most varsity teams.

But it's becoming clear that some NJSIAA officials aren't just out of touch with the times.

They're out of touch, period.

That's one explanation for the organization's complicity in a Chicken Little story that appeared this week in the Newark Star-Ledger. The well-reported piece said that the NJSIAA was looking at cutting some state tournaments to deal with a projected $900,000 shortfall because of a drastic reduction in revenue from ticket sales.

For NJSIAA officials to play a role, even indirectly, in the publication of that kind of story shows a stunning lack of public-relations savvy as well as insensitivity to the climate in a state in the midst of traumatic economic upheaval.

Worse yet, at least from a strategic standpoint with regards to the NJSIAA's Six-Years-And-Counting-War with Burzichelli, it was a softball lobbed to the assemblyman's wheelhouse.

He swung.

He didn't miss.

"It's unacceptable for the NJSIAA to resort to intimidation and threats to try to maintain their bloated salaries and benefits," Burzichelli said in a statement.

This situation is reaching a breaking point, and not just because some NJSIAA officials insist the organization will have to eliminate some state tournaments if somebody, somewhere, doesn't wake up and allow the group to increase prices for tickets to tournament events.

Hey, lower prices are the law. Burzichelli sponsored that law, and it was passed in 2007, but the NJSIAA was given three years to prepare for the ramifications.

They don't like it. OK, we get that. But it's past the time for whiny open letters from directors and scare-tactic stories in publications with which the organization has a business relationship.

It's time to deal with the situation. The NJSIAA executive committee will meet to discuss and vote on the 2010-11 budget Wednesday.

NJSIAA executive director Steve Timko is a good man. He has dedicated his professional life to education in this state.

But his organization has some officials who are not doing him any favors in this increasingly bitter battle with Burzichelli.

One of them, associate director Dan Danser, wrote an open letter to school officials and sports fans in late winter in which he claimed that the organization would cut individual tournaments such as the wildly popular (and immensely profitable) wrestling event in Atlantic City if the NJSIAA isn't permitted to hire a replacement for a retiring director.

Timko's other problem in this nasty matter is the way NJSIAA legal counsel Mike Herbert has reacted to Burzichelli's interference with the organization. Herbert is the NJSIAA's longtime counsel. He is used to being the only lawyer in the room.

All you need to know about Herbert's regard for Burzichelli's criticism of the NJSIAA is that Herbert issued a four-page brief this winter in which he insisted that Burzichelli as well as the lawyers who work for the state legislature were "incorrect" in their interpretation of the 2007 ticket-price law.

That's the law that Burzichelli sponsored, remember.

There are people in that office in Robbinsville who seem to think Burzichelli is firing spitballs at a battleship. They are badly mistaken. About the spitball part, anyway.

Burzichelli insists this issue isn't personal, but I'm starting to wonder about that. He's got his Paulsboro up.

He's a powerful state assemblyman. He knows how to play this game, behind doors and in the court of public opinion. Believe this: He has been working on developing another way to handle the oversight of high school athletics in this state, post NJSIAA.

It doesn't have to come to that.

The irony is that the NJSIAA has been granted the perfect issue to make peace with the assemblyman. Longtime associate director Carol Parsons, the organization's second-highest paid employee at $119,000 per year, plus $11,900 in deferred compensation, is retiring in August.

This is easy. The NJSIAA needs to get with Burzichelli and broker a deal - no replacement for Parsons in exchange for a little relief in the ticket-price fight. We'll cut this expense; you give us some help in terms of prices we can charge for certain tournament events.

Maybe they can try one of Burzichelli's good ideas about hiring retired educators on a seasonal, part-time basis to handle some of Parsons' workload. Maybe they can look at some slight givebacks in terms of salary and benefits - hey, it's happening all over - just to show the assemblyman they are respectful of his concerns as well as sensitive to the hardships being felt by people in education around the state.

Or maybe they can continue to insist it's not the 1950s anymore.