Back in 2010, when the state Legislature limited the amount the New Jersey State Interscholastic Athletic Association could charge for tickets to events, NJSIAA representatives said their organization would not survive the cuts.
But it was clear some things in the association had to change.
In October of that year, the State Commission of Investigation issued a scathing report on the NJSIAA's finances, citing infuriating examples of waste and "a disturbing level of indulgence," including an opulent retirement package for a former director and $800,000 spent over four years on expenses that had nothing to do with overseeing high school sports. The report held out little hope that things would get better.
"Simply put," the SCI said, "the NJSIAA cannot be trusted to put its own house in order."
It looks as though both the NJSIAA's fears and the SCI's assessment may have been wrong.
Today the group, which brought the state individual wrestling tournament to Boardwalk Hall in Atlantic City last weekend, has a better handle on its finances and seems to be moving in the right direction.
While still bridling under the ticket-price limits - the NJSIAA must seek approval from the state Department of Education to charge more than $3 for adult tickets and $2 for student tickets to an event - the group has put in place some financial controls and cost-saving measures.
It has done a better job of collecting annual dues from schools, has begun using requests for proposals to get a better price from venues that host championship events, and it did not replace an assistant director who retired.
These measures have helped the NJSIAA make do with less ticket revenue. After losing $457,628 in 2009-10 and $263,924 in 2010-11, the group saw a loss of just $33,692 in 2011-12.
"We're running a business now," Executive Director Steven J. Timko told Press staff writer Michael McGarry. "Our decisions are focused on making sure money is spent appropriately and there's accountability."
Frankly, it's about time. As a private organization that spends public money - more than $4 million a year from tournament entry fees and membership dues from public schools - the NJSIAA acted as if it were accountable to no one. The organization had a reputation for arrogance and wasteful spending on food and travel.
That's why Assemblyman John Burzichelli, D-Salem, Gloucester, Cumberland, pushed through the law that limited the price of tickets. In 2010 he also introduced a bill to would move the supervision of high school sports from the NJSIAA to the Department of Education.
Burzichelli says he has been content to wait on that measure, to see if the NJSIAA can get its finances in order. So far, it seems the group is making a good-faith effort to do just that. There is more work to be done, but we're glad to see the progress made so far.