Skip to comments.High School Sports Recruiting Limited (by Supreme Court)
Posted on 06/23/2007 6:25:35 AM PDT by xzins
High School Sports Recruiting Limited By MARK SHERMAN Associated Press Writer
WASHINGTON (AP) - Friday night lights are lure enough for young football players, the Supreme Court said Thursday in a decision that upholds limits on high school sports recruiting.
The high court ruled in a dispute between a Tennessee athletic association and a football powerhouse, the private Brentwood Academy near Nashville.
The school challenged a rule of the Tennessee Secondary School Athletic Association, which governs high school sports in the state. The association bars schools from contacting prospective students about their sports programs.
Games have rules, wrote Justice John Paul Stevens in the unanimous decision. "It is only fair that Brentwood follow them."
"Hard-sell tactics directed at middle school students could lead to exploitation, distort competition between high school teams and foster an environment in which athletics are prized more highly than academics," Stevens wrote.
Brentwood argued that the restriction violated its free-speech rights, even though it voluntarily joined the association.
The dispute arose from a letter that Brentwood's football coach sent to a dozen eighth-graders in 1997, inviting them to attend spring training at the school. The students already had been accepted and signed enrollment contracts for the fall at Brentwood but were not yet attending the school.
Brentwood coach Carlton Flatt, who stepped down as coach in December after 34 years, told the boys that equipment would be distributed and "getting involved as soon as possible would definitely be to your advantage." He signed the letter, "Your Coach."
In Tennessee, as in many other states, high school football is played on Friday nights. Some towns practically shut down as people stream to the game.
"It is a heady thing," Stevens said, for an eighth-grader to be contacted directly by a coach and invited to join a high school sports team.
He compared the case to one in which the court upheld a state bar association's limits on solicitations by lawyers. "The dangers of undue influence that exist when a lawyer chases an ambulance are also present when a high school coach contacts an eighth grader," Stevens said.
Brentwood Academy headmaster Curt Masters said at a news conference Thursday that school officials were disappointed the court classified Flatt's letter as a recruitment tool.
"We're still scratching our heads over why would you do that?" Masters said. "Why would you sanction a school for harmless communication about permitted activity when the kids or their parents had already clearly indicated their intent to come in writing?"
Brentwood, like the other 375 or so public and private schools in the association, remains free to send brochures, post billboards and otherwise advertise its sports programs, he said.
James Blumstein, a Vanderbilt University professor who had been assisting Brentwood Academy, called it a narrow application of the First Amendment.
"The risk down the road is for school choice, and the court wrote it very narrowly down for this particular circumstance," Blumstein said of Brentwood Academy's letters to the students.
The case had previously been before the Supreme Court. In 2001, the court ruled 5-4 in favor of Brentwood, saying the athletic association acted in a quasi-governmental capacity and could be sued.
A federal appeals court later ruled in favor of the school, saying the letter amounted to protected speech under the First Amendment. That ruling would prevent all high school associations from enforcing recruiting rules, lawyers for the state athletic association said.
"Whether it's vindication, we feel very happy with the ruling because by the ruling, it lets not only Tennessee know but also the high school associations across the nation that we still can enforce our rules," said Gene Menees, the Tennessee association's assistant director.
The NCAA, the National School Boards Association and the National Federation of State High School Associations backed the Tennessee athletic association, saying broad powers are needed to protect children by enforcing recruiting rules. The Bush administration also argued in support of the association, urging the high court to reverse the lower court decision.
Brentwood Academy had support from the National Women's Law Center, which worried about holding government accountable for gender discrimination. The Association of Christian Schools International and the National Association of Independent Schools also sided with Brentwood.
The case is Tennessee Secondary School Athletic Assn. v. Brentwood Academy, 06-427.
Pretty well sums it up for me. Private and parochial schools must follow recruiting rules of their sport. Change the rules if they don't like them.
I’m surprised this got to the Supreme Court. Are you?
That really struck me about this one. It seems a pretty easy response too....sports have rules, so follow them.
Or start your own association.
If it got there as a result of a circuit split, not.
I don’t care for Stevens’ moralizing, but good call. Even if the association is quasi-governmental, we have a long tradition that free speech has limits when dealing with children. We can restrict children from seeing certain kind of movies, restrict them from wearing t-shirts with nasty sayings while in school, and so forth.
What circuit handles Tennessee?
A little - it’s an interesting 1A question, but seems like an odd case to grant certiorari to. My best guess is that the Sixth Circuit just got it wrong.
And schools aren’t total “free speech” zones, either.
Why not protest some other rule of the Tenn HS athlet assoc?
Why not protest 4 downs instead of 5 on a team’s possession? Why not protest 3 officials instead of 2 at a HS basketball game?
It’s silly, imho.
Does the Scotus have to rule if a circuit gets it wrong? Can’t they just tell them they got it wrong...do it over?
That's usually what SCOTUS does - tells them they got it wrong, here's why, and "remand for further proceedings consistent with this opinion."
LOL! I hadn’t seen that. Thanks for the chuckle.
Perhaps you could send him a brief to that effect. :>)
I’ll check out your article. They are always excellent.
IF the association bans schools from recruiting “prospective” students, then fine; but why is it wrong for a school to send letters to already accepted students who are, by definition, no longer prospects? I’m not a lawyer, didn’t stay in a Holiday Inn last night, but this ruling makes no sense to me.
Here’s the short version:
Brentwood had voluntarily joined TSSAA and agreed to abide by its rules.
The Supreme Court said the TSSAA action did not violate free speech rights.
Unfortunately the Supreme Court opinion is filled with bluster and is almost unreadable. Why can’t the court just issue an opinion without pontificating for pages on end?
It took the Supreme Court 19 pages to state the obvious.
What is really scarry is how this thing managed to get to the Supreme Court TWICE!
That's the HS rules in Tennessee. The court says it doesn't violate free speech to have to abide by the rules.
It is the ABOUT SPORTS that is a violation
With all the important legal issues that need to be cleared up...once and for all....the SCOTUS is ruling on high school football?!?!
Your right John Roberts has been a disappointment. Can’t seem to get the role and it’s improtance. Sad isn’t it. Maybe he is too young and immature. I think they should have chosen Sam Alito who is older and wiser.
Is it the Chief Justice that determines what cases the court accepts and rejects? I thought it was a vote by the justices that determined that...although I certainly could be wrong.