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Blog: Athletic Association's Appeal Cost Money, Achieved Nothing

In my April 2010 Sports Law column, I wrote about the Indiana High School Athletic Association's decision to declare Jasmine Watson athletically ineligible following her transfer from Elkhart Memorial to Washington High School in South Bend. The IHSAA's decision was overturned by the Court of Appeal of Indiana on Dec. 9, 2009, and Watson was allowed to play the remainder of her senior season at Washington, which made it all the way to the Indiana Class 4-A state championship game.

A year later, with Watson having graduated from high school, the Indiana State Supreme Court has overturned the appeals court and ruled that Watson should have been ineligible to play her senior season. I could ramble on about the unfairness off the IHSAA's original decision, but my purpose here is to point out the impact of the Supreme Court's decision. Imagine, for example, that Washington High School actually won its final game: The court's decision would have effectively stripped the school and the players of a state championship. While that might be fine if both sides were actually defending the case in front of the court, the problem is that once the athlete is awarded an injunction, he or she no longer has any reason to defend the case in court and incur additional attorney's fees. For example, Watson, who is now a member of the University of Massachusetts women's basketball team, has no reason to continue fighting the case in court. That's why, when state athletic associations file an appeal in these types of cases, they almost always win.

Since the games have all been played, the trophies have been handed out and many of the students have graduated, any victory the athletic association may achieve is hollow. It makes you wonder what purpose the appeal served. Both sides already had their day in court, and for whatever reason the court ruled that the athlete was allowed to play - the athletic associations should just have considered the issue moot and saved their member schools money by ending the ongoing legal battle. Besides, no matter how many legal victories the state athletic association can claim, it is not going to stop the next high school athlete ruled ineligible from going to court to seek an injunction against the ruling.

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