OKLAHOMA CITY — Oklahoma’s Supreme Court ruled Tuesday that the organization that governs high school sports in the state acted in an arbitrary and capricious manner when it said a high school football player was ineligible for the 2012 playoffs because he attended a number of athletic camps in possible violation of the group’s rules.
The court said that while it had previously let the Oklahoma Secondary School Activities Association operate with “near impunity” as a voluntary organization, it would treat the group in the future as it would a state agency because it is so interwoven with the public school system.
In a 7-2 decision, justices said the rule used to block Brayden Scott first appeared in OSSAA policies in 2011-12, two years after Scott began attending camps while playing football at Sequoyah High School.
“Retroactive application of policies that did not exist for the majority of the alleged violations is inherently arbitrary and capricious because it has no basis in reason and is in complete disregard of the facts and circumstances,” the court wrote.
Chad Smith, the attorney representing former Sequoyah coach Brent Scott, Brayden’s father, said the ruling vindicates the Scotts and Sequoyah.
“OSSAA made harsh, hurting statements against Sequoyah, Brett and Brayden,” Smith said. “In essence, the supreme court threw out (OSSAA’s) entire investigation and allegations. It really helps Sequoyah now.”
OSSAA’s Executive Director Ed Sheakley said the association was still reviewing the opinion.
“We’re still digesting it and seeing what all the implications are,” he said. “Obviously this is something we’ll discuss with our membership and our board.”
The OSSAA policy says schools cannot pay fees for its athletes to attend athletic camps. The school said many of the camps in question were free, had its staff members working at them in lieu of payment or were paid for by parents who would provide additional money so that other children could attend.
The court also said that OSSAA wasn’t authorized by its rules to impose financial penalties on the school and players. OSSAA wanted Sequoyah School, a federal Indian boarding school operated by the Cherokee Nation, to pay up to $25,000 for attorney and investigators’ fees. It also said current students had to pay back the school for the camp fees.
“... imposition of steep monetary penalties, without an apparent basis in the OSSAA’s Constitution, Rules or Policies, is likewise arbitrary and capricious,” the court wrote.
“The court was very upset about OSSAA demanding these teenage students to pay back the restitution for camps and the $25,000 fine to pay for attorney fees and such.,” Smith said. “Hopefully, the OSSAA will reinstate the wins of the team and give them back their district championship even though they deprived the kids a chance at a state championship and preventing them from participating in the state playoffs.”
While Scott attended some camps after the policy took effect, the court said it was so disturbed by the OSSAA’s reaction that the entire case against the player had to be thrown out entirely. It also said that since the playoff season was over, it wanted to take up the case regardless.
“If controversies regarding the OSSAA’s decision concerning eligibility were to become moot each time merely because the events in question had already occurred, all the OSSAA would need to do to perpetually evade review of its actions is to delay a decision until the event occurs,” the court wrote.
In a dissent, two justices noted that while an investigation began in July 2012, the school didn’t provide details until three months later. They said the school appeared to be “intentionally slow in hopes of making it through as much of the season as possible.”
“When this litigation began, Sequoyah and the present administration abandoned the kids and basically threw them under the bus,” Smith said. “If they had stood up for those kids, we wouldn’t be in the situation where at now.”
Attempts by the Phoenix to reach Sequoyah superintendent Leroy Qualls were unsuccessful and messages were not returned.
– Ronn Rowland, Phoenix sports writer, contributed to this report.