Last summer the Tennessee Secondary Schools Athletic Association (TSSAA) placed Brentwood Academy on two years' probation and fined it $3,000 for recruiting violations, which included improperly contacting players and providing them with tickets to Brentwood football games (SCORECARD, Aug. 11, 1997). Few Tennessee high school, coaches were surprised. A private Christian school of 400 students in suburban Nashville, Brentwood is a nine-time state football champ and had been suspected of recruiting players for years.
Brentwood responded by suing the TSSAA, and last week U.S. district judge Todd Campbell ruled in the school's favor. Wrote Campbell: "It is simply not the business of the state to stifle competition among schools for students, whether those students are athletes, musical prodigies or math geniuses." Campbell ruled that the TSSAA had violated the First Amendment by limiting free speech—in this case by placing restrictions on when and how coaches can contact prospective players.
"It's a sad decision," says Rick Colbert, a lawyer for the TSSAA, which filed an appeal last week. "The TSSAA makes sure kids are treated like kids. There are some unscrupulous people out there, and this decision doesn't keep them away."
The effect of Campbell's ruling may be far-reaching. According to a lawyer for Brentwood, Tom Nebel, some 40 states have recruiting rules similar to Tennessee's. Under this precedent high school coaches, both private and public, could invade middle school and junior high playgrounds and try to persuade prepubescent quarterbacks to choose their school over another. This isn't one step away from the insanity of college recruiting; it's the same thing.