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Tenn. High School Loses 10-Year Battle Over Recruiting

By Robert Barnes
Washington Post Staff Writer
Friday, June 22, 2007

The Supreme Court decided unanimously yesterday that a state high school athletic association may restrict its member schools from contacting potential student-athletes.

The decision capped a 10-year, multimillion-dollar legal battle between the Tennessee Secondary School Athletic Association and athletic powerhouse Brentwood Academy, a private school near Nashville that boasted the state's most successful football coach.

The association found Brentwood coach Carlton Flatt violated its rules by contacting some eighth-graders about spring practice, even though the boys had already said they were going to attend Brentwood. The school argued that was a violation of Flatt's First Amendment rights.

What started as a $3,000 fine and probation for the school led to two trips to the Supreme Court and the attention of a federal judge (twice), a federal appeals court (three times), and the Clinton and Bush administrations.

Every state has a similar rule about recruiting, which Justice John Paul Stevens wrote was a "common-sense conclusion that 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."

The justices split in their reasoning for ruling against Brentwood but agreed the school waived its First Amendment rights when it joined the association. Games have rules, the court said in quoting a lower-court judge. "It is only fair that Brentwood follow them."

The case is TSSAA v. Brentwood Academy.

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