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Supreme Court Agrees on One Thing -- Regulating HS Sports OK

Last Thursday the Supreme Court issued a rare unanimous decision in the case of Tennessee Secondary School Athletic Association v. Brentwood Academy. The Court upheld the TSSAA's right to limit athlete recruiting activities by private high schools.

I went to high school in Texas, which has had very tight regulation of athletics. In fact, I found out about this case because of Kevin Sherrington's article in today's Dallas Morning News. For example, when I was in high school in the 1970s, the athletic governing body, UIL, did not permit athletes to attend summer camps because of concerns about voluntary camps becoming, de facto, involuntary by means of aggressive coaches. Plano high school standout and future SD Charger Billy Ray Smith challenged the rule and won (if memory serves me correctly). don't know if it is still the policy, but players who transferred high schools before their senior year were not eligible for varsity participation. Until recently, Texas was one of only 3 states not permitting private and public schools to compete. Even now, the schools must do so at the highest level regardless of enrollment -- only 2 have chosen to do so.

High school sport regulation is a multi-sided issue from legal and economic perspectives. I can't get into all of it here, but I will offer a few personal observations.

  • Texas tends to overwork its fears of private school dominance. The size of the state and the tradition with many of its public high schools in athletics would tend to offset private school advantages that occurred in TN, where Brentwood Academy has dominated. Public schools such as Southlake Carroll have become, in effect, the equivalent of a Brentwood Academy through money and self-selection. I suspect that occurs elsewhere.
  • I'm a fence-sitter when it comes to benefit-cost analysis of some of the specific restraints. The restraint on summer camp participation struck me as over-the-top back in the 1970s, but seeing how many coaches essentially demand their players to attend individual and team camps over the years troubles me also.
  • The institutional framework in the U.S. has not been well-suited to handle the athletic-education mix -- that seems an understatement. It is very similar to the problems at the collegiate level. I would admit now (not then), high school football was way too important in my hometown. It was nearly semi-professional. We had a head coach and 9 positional coaches. Our head coach/AD made as much as anybody in the school district. These problems have been compounded over the years with more growth in interest in athletics and earlier monitoring and development of top caliber young athletes who become like rock stars in high school. The English soccer academy system seems a good way to mix schooling with development of very promising athletes. At least in basketball, there are a few rough equivalents of the soccer academies. In football, that really does not exist.
  • The lack of academy system or developmental minor league systems in sports such as basketball seem, to me, to have a long-run detrimental effect on young athletes. Instead of working hard the a development pipeline in relative obscurity against genuine peers, top high school athletes in the U.S. frequently vault to superstar status with little of the effort and maturation inherent in a longer pipeline.

These are just some of the issues, there are lots of others. One that does stick out is the perversity of Supreme Court voting on first amendment speech issues. See the James Taranto article on OpinionJournal.com.