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Court Upholds Limit on Merit-Based Scholarships for Ky. Athletes

A federal appeals court upheld a Kentucky rule last week that prevents private school student-athletes from receiving merit-based scholarships that cover more than 25 percent of the cost of their tuition, dismissing claims about the rule's unconstitutionality.

Four parents of private school students filed suit against the Kentucky High School Athletic Association in 2009, alleging that Bylaw 13 forces students to choose between participating in school sports and getting financial assistance.

In the ruling, filed Dec. 21, the U.S. 6th Circuit Court of Appeals wrote that the rule "only restricts the amount and type of financial aid that a student can receive and retain KHSAA athletic eligibility."

"The fundamental right of parents to control the education of their children does not extend to a right to demand that their children be allowed to participate without restrictions in extracurricular sports," the court ruled.

The court's decision upholds an earlier ruling by the U.S. District Court of Western Kentucky.

By the KHSAA's definition, merit-based scholarships are based solely on academic or test performance and are available to the entire student body. Factoring in athletic ability with scholarships is strictly prohibited.

Julian Tackett, commissioner of the KHSAA, told The Courier-Journal that the rules were put in place before the start of the 2007-08 school year to "help address perception issues" and to ensure that private schools weren't effectively paying recruits to attend.

There is no limit on need-based aid for student-athletes, under KHSAA rules. The 25 percent tuition cap strictly applies to merit-based scholarships.

Student-athletes are also prohibited by the KHSAA from receiving any financial aid from somewhere "not under the custody and control of the member school or its governing board."

"The 25% 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," the court wrote in its ruling.

Teddy Gordon, the lawyer representing the parents who sued the KHSAA, told The Courier-Journal that they want the case heard before the U.S. Supreme Court.

Two of the students in the lawsuit were allegedly forced to turn down merit-based scholarships to stay eligible for KHSAA athletics.

The third student, an 8th grader, allegedly lost her athletic eligibility in Kentucky when she accepted a merit-based scholarship from an organization outside of the school's control. The final student in the case, a 9th grader, allegedly lost her eligibility after accepting merit-based financial aid that exceeded 25 percent of her tuition costs.

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