In a harshly worded opinion, the Oklahoma Supreme Court on Tuesday slammed the association that oversees high school athletics for taking arbitrary and capricious actions against a football team.
The Supreme Court warned in the 7-2 opinion that the Oklahoma Secondary School Activities Association will see tougher judicial scrutiny of its actions from now on.
“This Court has permitted the OSSAA, in the guise of a voluntary association, to govern the affairs of secondary school athletics in Oklahoma with near impunity. No more,” Justice Yvonne Kauger wrote for the majority in the 40-page opinion.
She wrote that an organization interwoven so tightly with the public school system is not truly voluntary.
“Because the role it plays in our state goes above and beyond that of a traditional voluntary association, closer scrutiny when reviewing its actions is a necessity,” she wrote.
“We will, when necessary, examine its actions with the same careful depth we use in examining the decisions of state agencies,” she wrote.
The ruling comes almost two weeks after former Sooner coach Barry Switzer and other critics of the organization complained at a legislative hearing about its practices. The hearing resumes Thursday.
The OSSAA oversees extracurricular activities for nearly every public school in Oklahoma for grades seven through 12, including the makeup of athletic districts, playoffs and student transfers and eligibility.
Last year, the OSSAA barred the football team at Sequoyah High School in Tahlequah from the 3A playoffs. The team was required to forfeit its nine wins, and the school was told to reimburse the association $25,000.
The OSSAA found the Cherokee Nation-supported school improperly had paid for players to attend football camps.
The Supreme Court, though, found the association in the Sequoyah case repeatedly acted in an arbitrary and capricious manner in interpreting and enforcing its rules. Justices specifically ruled the school did not have to pay the $25,000 penalty.
‘Too much control'
“Competition in sports is more than a mere passing enjoyment for students,” justices noted. “Particularly in rural areas, athletic teams are the glue which holds the community together. The college and post-college careers of student athletes often have their genesis at the secondary school level, and for some provide the only path to higher education.
This court has permitted the OSSAA ... to govern the affairs of secondary school athletics in Oklahoma with near impunity. No more.”
Justice Yvonne Kauger,,
in the ruling