High School Sports

KHSAA to consider changes to bylaws for student athletes

At a meeting in May, the Kentucky High School Athletic Association board will decide whether to propose changes to its bylaws.

An investigative report on the KHSAA, which oversees high school sports in Kentucky, by a Legislative Research Commission committee has recommended that the organization consider expanding the exceptions to its transfer rule.

Many of the rulings the association makes involve the transfer rule, which says a student athlete may not compete for one year after changing schools, except under specific conditions such as the entire family moving, parents divorcing, a change in custody by the courts or a school board reassignment of the student.

There are at least 10 exceptions in other states' bylaws that Kentucky does not specifically include, according to the report from LRC's program review and investigations committee.

Each year, the KHSAA makes about 750 decisions on the eligibility of transfer students. From fiscal year 2006 until fiscal year 2009, when it heard 1,798 transfer cases, 71 percent of the students who transferred schools were found eligible, according to the LRC.

Thirty-two states include the legal separation of parents as an exception, and 14 states include the emancipation of a student, meaning the parents are no longer responsible for the child, the report said. Kentucky does not.

The LRC report hasn't been published, but it was approved by lawmakers on the program review and investigations committee in December 2009.

The KHSAA already is incorporating two other recommendations in the report, according to Commissioner Julian Tackett. It is creating a document to clearly explain its transfer rule to parents and students. And it is creating an electronic system for processing the forms required to determine students' eligibility.

KHSAA spokesman Elden May said the organization's board of control will review all 33 of its bylaws and determine what, if any, changes it will propose for an annual meeting of delegates from its member schools in September.

"We simply do not know until the meeting on May 19 what will happen," said May.

Most states, including Kentucky, have transfer rules to discourage parents and coaches from going to extremes to get students on specific teams. The KHSAA's decisions on whether a transfer student is eligible to play or must sit out a year are sometimes controversial. When the KHSAA rules a student ineligible, parents often sue the organization, which is overseen by the state school board.

The LRC report said that 39 of the 66 lawsuits filed against the KHSAA from 1998 to 2008 involved the transfer rule.

The LRC report also provided information on how parents and students fared in court when they filed lawsuits against the KHSAA. Of the 66 cases, 30 had concluded by 2008. The KHSAA prevailed in 21 of those cases.

One example of suits against KHSAA is a case filed in federal court earlier this year. Knott Central High School basketball player Nason Roberts contended the KHSAA ruled him ineligible to play in 2008 when he transferred from June Buchanan School, a private school, to the school in his district, Knott Central. Roberts played basketball at Knott Central for the past two seasons.

Roberts says in the lawsuit that although he won an appeal to the KHSAA ruling in Knott Circuit Court, the KHSAA threatened Knott Central with sanctions if the school followed the court order.

"He did sit out a calendar year from March 5, 2008, to March 5, 2009, solely due to the defendant KHSAA's refusal to honor the orders of the Knott Circuit Court," the complaint said.

The complaint said Roberts "sustained emotional and mental distress; lost a year of competition which cannot be replaced, and had his civil rights violated."

Roberts and his parents "felt the KHSAA treated them unfairly," Roberts' attorney, Ron Thornsberry of Lexington, said in an interview.

U.S. District Judge Amul R. Thapar has ordered that attorneys meet by Friday to discuss a settlement in that suit.

May, the KHSAA spokesman, said he could not comment on the case because it was in court.

For years, when a parent challenged a ruling about a student's right to play and the court issued an order that reversed a KHSAA ruling, the association often warned school officials that they could face fines, the coach could be suspended or games forfeited if the judge's ruling was overturned.

But in May 2009, under pressure from state lawmakers, the Kentucky Board of Education got rid of the controversial policy. That meant high school officials no longer had to fear penalties or warnings from the organization when they allowed athletes to compete because a judge had ordered them to.

While the LRC investigative report was being compiled in 2009, KHSAA officials also made two other changes that lawmakers wanted. They hired an in-house attorney to keep down legal costs, and officials attempted to reduce the time it takes to determine students' eligibility.

Members of the Board of Control, who meet only once a month, no longer have a role in deciding whether a transfer student is eligible.