OSSAA legal costs spark criticism

The Oklahoma Secondary School Activities Association uses one of the largest law firms in the state, Crowe & Dunlevy, for its legal matters rather than employing an in-house attorney.
by Nolan Clay Published: July 21, 2014
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photo - Executive Director Ed Sheakley and the OSSAA are under scrutiny from the state legislature.  Photo by David McDaniel, The Oklahoman
Executive Director Ed Sheakley and the OSSAA are under scrutiny from the state legislature. Photo by David McDaniel, The Oklahoman

The association that oversees high school athletics in Oklahoma has run up more than $1 million in legal fees and expenses in the past four years, and some of its critics say those costs are too high.

“It’s no surprise to me ... how much money this organization pays in attorney fees,” said one critic, state Rep. Bobby Cleveland, R-Slaughterville.

“They waste more money than most small corporations have,” he said. “It’s shocking that they are even considering raising playoff ticket prices. While the schools are hurting financially, they continue wasting money.”

The Oklahoma Secondary School Activities Association uses one of the largest law firms in the state, Crowe & Dunlevy, for its legal matters rather than employing an in-house attorney.

Attorney Mark Grossman assists the OSSAA the most. He charges the association $280 an hour, a 20 percent discount from his normal rate.

The OSSAA said in the last fiscal year it paid $316,586 in legal fees and expenses. That is almost 6 percent of its $5.5 million budget. The OSSAA said it spent $398,953 on legal fees and expenses the year before.

Executive Director Ed Sheakley said the legal expenses should be going down because of rule changes.

The most significant cost-saving change is that a student can choose a high school in the ninth grade — and be eligible for varsity athletics immediately — regardless of where the student’s family lives or where the student went before.

The choice is allowed as long as the student wasn’t recruited for athletic reasons or unduly influenced.

“Previously if a student was transferring schools in the ninth grade, or choosing to attend a high school outside of the family's school district or area of residence, then the student had to demonstrate that the change of schools was due to an unavoidable hardship in order to gain immediate varsity eligibility,” Sheakley told The Oklahoman.

“We hope that this rule change will reduce the number of disputes,” he said.

Legal problems

The association oversees extracurricular activities for nearly every public school in Oklahoma for grades seven through 12.

It makes decisions on the makeup of athletic districts, playoffs and student transfers and eligibility.

The association legal costs go way up when parents or student athletes file lawsuits to challenge its decisions.

Its critics say it has acted arrogantly in enforcing its rules on student athletes. Last October, in a sharply worded opinion, the Oklahoma Supreme Court ruled the association had acted arbitrarily and capriciously in banning a football team from the playoffs.

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by Nolan Clay
Sr. Reporter
Nolan Clay was born in Oklahoma and has worked as a reporter for The Oklahoman since 1985. He covered the Oklahoma City bombing trials and witnessed bomber Tim McVeigh's execution. His investigative reports have brought down public officials,...
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By the numbers

OSSAA legal costs

$203,828:

2010-11 fiscal year

$212,241

2011-12 fiscal year

$398,953

2012-13 fiscal year

$316,586

2013-14 fiscal year

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