The Orlando Sentinel (MCT)
The unanimous decision, a reversal of a lower-court ruling, was hailed as a victory by the Florida High School Athletic Association and other governing bodies.
"This solidifies that we can establish and enforce rules to maintain the integrity of our programs," said Sonny Hester, an FHSAA associate commissioner for compliance. "Our coaches are specifically told if a parent or kid asks about their program, they are to be directed to the admissions office."
The high court ruled in a case pitting the Tennessee Secondary School Athletic Association against a private-school football powerhouse, Brentwood Academy near Nashville. The case, TSSAA vs. Brentwood Academy 06-427, challenged a TSSAA rule prohibiting schools from contacting prospective students about their athletic programs.
"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 than academics," Justice John Paul Stevens wrote in his decision.
The case stemmed from a letter Brentwood's football coach sent to 12 eighth-graders in 1997, inviting them to attend spring practices. The school said the students already had signed enrollment contracts and paid tuition deposits.
The TSSAA prohibits schools from contacting prospective students about sports programs. Brentwood argued that the restriction violated free-speech rights.
Brentwood, like the other 375 or so public and private schools in the association, remains free to send brochures, post billboards and other advertise its sports programs, Stevens said.
Bob Kanaby, executive director of the National Federation of State High School Associations, said, "I would go so far as to say each one of our 51 associations have rules that prohibit the solicitation of athletes to their schools.
"That concept of education-based sports is, quite frankly, what makes us different from every other level of sports in this country, including club sports and some of the schools outside our associations that make it a habit of going out and collecting hand-picked athletes."
Some proponents of school choice in Florida, including several members of a legislative-appointed task force that reviewed FHSAA recruiting rules last fall, have said coaches should be able to publicize programs just as a school can advertise academic achievements.
"If that was allowed, you're turning high school into college sports," Hester said. "Some people want that. We have high schools in this state that want to be small colleges. But how can it possibly be a good thing to pressure an eighth-grader to come to a certain high school for sports. How is that remotely healthy for a kid?"
(c) 2007, The Orlando Sentinel (Fla.).
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