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Justices Decline Challenge to Kentucky Athletics Rule

The U.S. Supreme Court declined review of a Kentucky high school sports rule that restricts the amount of merit-based financial aid students may receive and remain eligible for competition.

The justices refused to hear the challenge to Bylaw 13 of the Kentucky High School Athletic Association brought on behalf of four girls attending a Roman Catholic high school in Louisville. The four students at Presentation Academy said they had to choose between declining additional merit aid or giving up interscholastic competition on the volleyball, cross country, or track teams.

The Kentucky association adopted the rule to deter the recruitment of student-athletes by its non-public member schools. The bylaw says student athletes may accept merit aid totaling no more than 25 percent of tuition at their schools, and they may not accept aid from groups outside the control of the school or its governing board. Students may receive as much as 100 percent of their tuition in need-based financial aid and remain eligible for sports.

Parents of the four girls challenged the bylaw in state court as unfair, arbitrary, and capricious. Because some of their claims implicated federal law, the KHSAA had the case removed to federal court. A federal district court dismissed the federal claims, and in a December 2011 decision, a panel of the U.S. Court of Appeals for the 6th Circuit, in Cincinnati, affirmed.

"The KHSAA has enacted a broad rule to limit improper athletic recruiting carried out through the use of pretextual 'merit-based' academic scholarships," the 6th Circuit court said. "The 25 percent cap on merit-based aid may not be a perfect rule, and there might indeed be better methods of preventing the harm of improper recruitment, but a perfect, well-tailored rule is not required."

In their appeal to the Supreme Court, the parents argued that Bylaw 13 arbitrarily singles out Roman Catholic private schools because they have their own classification under the KHSSA. The association noted in a brief that Catholic schools have their own classification because they are governed by their Catholic dioceses instead of by individual school governing boards.

The justices declined without comment to hear the parents' appeal in Evans v. Kentucky High School Athletic Association (Case No. 11-1131.

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