Thursday, May 1, 2014

TSSAA Loses Another Round In Attempt To Avoid State Open Records Act

Posted By on Thu, May 1, 2014 at 2:33 PM

The Tennessee Secondary School Athletic Association, the regulating body for high school athletics in the state, is subject to the Tennessee Open Records Act, the state court of appeals has ruled.

In a decision written by Judge Frank Clement, the court affirmed the earlier ruling by Chancellor Claudia Bonnyman that the TSSAA is the functional equivalent of a government body.

The TSSAA had argued that since it was a non-profit that merely provided a service, it should not be seen as a state actor. The U.S. Supreme Court had ruled in Brentwood Academy v. TSSAA that the organization was a state actor as it attempted to restrict the school's recruiting activities.

The Court of Appeals agreed:

However, the historical relationship between the Board of Education and the TSSAA, as reflected in the Board’s rules and regulations, makes it clear that the Board of Education viewed athletic activities in public schools to be one of its functions; otherwise, it would have had no reason, or right, to “designate” the TSSAA as “the organization to supervise and regulate the athletic activities in which the public junior and senior high schools of Tennessee participate on an interscholastic basis.” See Tennessee State Board of Education, Administrative Rules and Regulations, Rule 0520-1-2-.26 (1972) (later moved to Rule 0520-1-1-.08). Moreover, it is undeniable that education is a government function, and the rule identified below made it clear that the Tennessee State Board of Education viewed the supervision and regulation of athletic activities in public junior and senior high schools of Tennessee as one of its governmental functions.

The case arose out of allegations of improper activity at Montgomery Bell Academy in 2011. The City Paper sought to examine records provided to the TSSAA about tuition payments made on behalf of students at MBA as well as other records regarding investigations of other schools. When the TSSAA would not provide any documents, The City Paper sued under the state's open records act, contending that the association is indeed a state actor.

The TSSAA later imposed major sanctions on MBA, forcing the school to vacate state titles in football and basketball and return $46,000 in proceeds from those playoffs.

A PDF of the ruling can be found here.

The TSSAA has 60 days to appeal to the state supreme court.

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