Mero Moment: UHSAA’s unelected quasi-bureaucrats

When a professional athlete moves from one team to another nobody cries foul, even if the fans are disappointed about the player leaving. It’s the same thing in amateur sports. If a college athlete chooses to transfer to another school to play football, he’s allowed to go. Few people fault anyone trying to better their situation. It’s reasonable and it’s expected.

But when it comes to high school sports in Utah, a student athlete is expected to do just the opposite. In high school sports every kid is expected to stay put, endure any awful circumstance, place the edicts of the school system above personal concerns and patiently submit to school authorities who insist they know more about a child’s happiness than the child’s parents.

The governance of high school sports might be the most egregious example of unchecked power and government condescension in a free society. How humiliating must it be for a parent to face the threat of legal sanctions simply because she wants her child to have a better experience at another school. Worse, if you want your child to change schools because of a math class, no problem. But if you want your student athlete to be in a better program or just a better situation, you might as well ask a prison guard to unlock the front door. It isn’t going to happen.

But here’s the worst news of all. High school sports in Utah are authorized through the State Board of Education, and the board, in turn, polices high school sports through the Utah High School Activities Association, or UHSAA. UHSAA is a private, nonprofit organization. It’s like the Red Cross or Sutherland Institute, except UHSAA has governmental powers. In the world of high school sports, UHSAA is judge, jury and executioner.

Nowhere else in Utah does a private entity wield government authority. The United States Supreme Court has ruled that UHSAA is a “state actor,” meaning it exercises governmental functions. And yet it’s a private organization. Let me put that reality into perspective. Having UHSAA exercise government powers is like the state Legislature arbitrarily appointing Sutherland Institute to run the Department of Workforce Services and then giving Sutherland plenary powers to write all the rules and enforce them.

Last week UHSAA ruled against the East High School and Timpview High School football programs for permitting ineligible players to play. Those players weren’t ineligible for academic reasons. They were ruled ineligible because their family circumstances broke UHSAA rules and school administrators failed to report those circumstances. For instance, the student “criminal” in question from East High School had health issues so he quit playing football for a while, changed schools, and then, when he was deemed healthy again by his family doctor, changed again from his charter school where they didn’t have a sports program to a school that did. Instead of celebrating this boy’s recovery and encouraging his continued participation in sports, UHSAA told him he couldn’t play high school sports and his teammates at East High would have to forfeit all but one of their eight victories.

Folks, that’s not responsible stewardship; that’s unmitigated tyranny by people appointed to protect the best interests of children. But the story’s not over. Because of the public outcry, UHSAA reversed its position. One arbitrary act deserves another. On the other hand, Timpview High School remains strapped with its arbitrary sanctions. This whole thing is crazy and at the heart of it all are unelected quasi-bureaucrats making rules and passing judgments on the lives of Utah families. It’s disgusting and insulting in a free society.

For Sutherland Institute, I’m Paul Mero. Thanks for listening.