"Why Can't My Son Play Tennis?" A Call for High School Athletic Associations to Revamp the 50% Rule

Article excerpt

I. Introduction

Nothing pleases a parent more than seeing their child participate in extra-curricular activities. I remember many instances when my mother and father would come and watch me play tennis for Keokuk Senior High School in Keokuk, Iowa. I had a sense of pride, accomplishment and happiness when I was out on the court, battling an opponent. Looking back on my four years of high school tennis at Keokuk I know that I was blessed with teammates that supported each other, a smart coach to guide us, and, ultimately, a 1993 State Team Tennis Championship. Yet, it was not until recently that I realized how truly lucky I was to get the opportunity to win a state championship. In order for everything to go well in tennis I had to be physically healthy and experience few injuries. Recently, I have wondered what would have happened if I had sustained an injury that lasted most of the tennis season. Could I still have participated in the state tennis competition? Were there any rules that were created by the Iowa High School Athletic Association that would have prevented me from playing? Did I have to play in at least 50% of the team's regularly scheduled contests to be eligible for the state tournament? Was there an exception for injuries and medical conditions? Today there are rules that mandate such participation from student-athletes. These rules are developed by high school athletic associations.

High school athletic associations have rules and regulations for students wishing to participate not only in sports but also in speech, debate and music.' Some of these rules have been challenged with many courts deciding the case in favor of athletic associations.2

The goal of this article is to analyze whether one particular rule, the 50% rule, needs to be changed or possibly eliminated. First, the article explores the Indiana High School Athletic Association's (IHSAA) 50% rule, which has been challenged by parents and their children who want to play in IHSAA sponsored sporting events but cannot due to the limitations of the rule. Second, a federal case involving the IHSAA's 50% rule will be discussed. Finally, this article presents three solutions that would help to solve many of the problems that athletic associations face with respect to student-athlete eligibility.

The IHSAA

In numerous states around the country, nearly every high school is a member of some high school athletic association.3 The member-schools compete with each other in competitions! Since 1980, courts have recognized that extracurricular activities and competitions were a vital component of a student's education.5 However, by joining the athletic association, schools agree to abide by any rules which the association sets forth.6

Rules prohibiting the consumption and use of alcohol and drugs for studentathletes are not new.' If a student has violated such a rule, the association usually mandates that the student be declared ineligible to participate in sponsored association events for a specified period of time.' Thus, the rules that athletic associations promulgate are of potentially great importance to coaches and high school sports teams.

The IHSAA, which is a voluntary association created to regulate athletic competitions, is composed of over 160,000 students statewide and establishes standards for competitions, sportsmanship and eligibility through its By-Laws and Articles of Incorporation.' While some of these standards and regulations are necessary and reasonable, courts have been willing to interfere with the association's broad discretion in handing down punishments to the student-athletes.10 Yet "[u]nder Indiana law, as in most states, there is a longstanding, general principle of judicial noninterference in the internal affairs of voluntary associations."11 Thus, it is extremely difficult for students and their parents to overturn any eligibility-related decisions by the IHSAA.

The 50% Rule

Since its adoption in 1991, some student-athletes have fallen victim to IHSAA's 50% rule in the sport of tennis. …