The KHSAA and Dakotah Euton

OK, so I am crusading a bit here.  But I think it is a worthy crusade.

After the "clarification" by the Kentucky High School Athletic Association and my associated tirade, I decided it was time to take a look at the facts, and see if all this outrage is justified.

My findings were enlightening, and a little bit surprising.  The KHSAA website, unfortunately, is poorly done and the most important links seem to be broken, but I was still able to locate all the relevant documents by going around the main page.

First, let's evaluate the question:  Was Euton's declaration of ineligibility the right ruling by Commissioner Brigid DeVries?  That question requires us to look at what the powers of the Commissioner are, and the constraints placed upon her by the rules of the KHSAA.

 

  • The powers of the commissioner are defined in the KHSAA's constitution.  Essentially, the Commissioner is the CEO of the KHSAA, and has the independent authority to interpret the constitution, bylaws and regulations.  Ruling on Euton's eligibility is within her constitutional purview.
  • The rule at issue is Rule 6, known as the Transfer Rule.  The relevant part of this rule is as follows:

    "The Commissioner has discretion (but is not required) to waive the period of ineligibility set forth above if one of the following exceptions has been met. Determinations of whether a student shall be granted a waiver pursuant to this rule shall be based on the circumstances existing as of the date of enrollment at the new school. The KHSAA shall not recognize as grounds for a waiver of the period of ineligibility an argument that the educational needs of the transferring students would be better served through a transfer."

    The exceptions that the rule talks about are, generally:
    1. Bona fide change in residence;
    2. Divorce;
    3. Guardianship/change of custody;
    4. Death;
    5. Boarding schools;
    6. Non-athletic participation for an entire year;
    7. Reassignment by the Board of Education;
    8. Transfer from a non-member school.
    • There is also exceptions to any of the exceptions, and the one applicable to Euton because of his father's media comments is:

      "Satisfying of one of the exceptions (a through h) will not be considered valid and a waiver of the period of ineligibility shall not be granted— ...

      3) If the change in schools is motivated in whole or part by a desire to participate in athletics at the new school; ..."
  • Finally, the Due Process Procedure of the KHSAA sets forth guidelines for the Commissioner to restore eligibility under section 3, "Commissioner's authority to rule":

    "The Commissioner is also empowered to restore the eligibility of students or other participants who do not meet the provisions of KHSAA Bylaw 2 (Physician’s Certificate), 4 (Enrollment), 5 Minimum Academic Requirement), 6 (Transfer Rule), 7 (Conduct), 8  Contestant on Other Teams, Post Season and All-Star Games), 9 (Other Eligibility Requirements and Regulations), Bylaw 10 (Recruitment), or 12 (Awards). Such restoration may only be granted in cases where strict application of the applicable bylaw is unfair to the student athlete and the circumstances creating the ineligibility are clearly beyond the control of all of the parties involved. [Emphasis mine]"

Did Euton's transfer meet the threshold above?  I say yes.  It goes without saying that stict aplication is unfair to the student athlete -- he had no say in his father's employment.  Was it "clearly beyond the control of the parties?"  Surely, to the extent that Euton and his father's loss of employment was beyond their control.

So the question becomes, was the Commissioner's ruling within the constraints of the bylaws and due process requirements?  Well, I think you can make a narrow and rather unreasonable case that it is.  Essentially, Bylaw 6 makes all transfers ineligible by default, and then establish exceptions to that, and then establishes exceptions to the exceptions.  DeVries, by her "clarification," is clearly relying on exeption to the exceptions 3) quoted above -- Euton's father, Clay Euton, indicated in the media that the athletic program at Scott County was a factor in his decision of where to become employed.

But is that what the "exception to the exception" really says?  I say no.  Euton's transfer is motivated by the fact that his parents are changing residence to Scott County.  If Clay Euton had decided to move based purely on Scott County's athletic prominence, perhaps this exception would apply, but that is clearly not the case.  When faced with unemployment, Euton had only one really relevant decision -- where to find new employment.  He chose Scott County, and that choice may well have been partially influenced by its athletic program, according to his public utterances.

But what is a man to do?  Is the KHSAA effectively saying that you must chose your job at random?  Are they saying that the athletic program of a school cannot be a factor in a decision about where to move your family, and if it is, you must keep quiet about it?  If Euton had kept his mouth shut, would that have lead to the eligibility of Euton, and if so, would anything be different?  The KHSAA appear to be engaging in what is essentially a paralogical attempt to punish a child for public utterances by their adult parents that are neither violative of law or of any sort of public decency, and for no rational purpose.

My supposition is that instead, exception to the exception 3) (does anyone but me find "exceptions to the exception" part of the problem?) was designed to prevent a deliberate move crafted to circumvent Bylaw 6 and trigger exception 1, which is clearly not the case here.  Euton's father had a choice, and if the rule were to apply as DeVries has apparently invoked it, no family with an athlete could ever transfer to a school with a good athletic program for any reason, period.  How could an improvement in athletic circumstances of their athlete progeny not enter into a parent's decision, if there are multiple choices available?  Is the KHSAA really trying to tell us that the mere consideration of a high school athletic program's merits for their children is grounds for ineligibility?

So in spite of a generally favorable analysis and lots of excuses, it is clear that DeVries is doing exactly what I and others have accused her of and the KHSAA by extension -- an arbitrary and hyper-technical reading of the rules, which are pretty bad to begin with.

While I am at it, I also want to dispose of another question which has raised the ire of many -- that of the applicability of a judicial order.  The Rules of Due Process of the KHSAA states, in relevant part:

12. Judicial Review
Final orders of the Board of Control shall be subject to judicial review in accordance with KRS Chapter 13B. A party shall institute an appeal by filing a petition in the appropriate Circuit Court within thirty (30) days after the final order is mailed or delivered by personal service. A party may file a petition for judicial review only after the party has exhausted all administrative remedies available within this procedure.

This particular provision appears to be unenforceable.  Courts in Kentucky and the United States (which could come into play for an interstate or international transfer) are not required to abide by the jurisdictional desires of organizations like the KHSAA.  They may impose review on any decision at any time, regardless of the rules of the Association establishes -- just channel Chief Justice John Marshall.

But with that said, the Herald-Leader has implied that the KHSAA has asked member institutions not to obey judicial orders.  That may not actually be the case.  For instance, if a judge rules a player eligible, that does not require the school to allow him to play.  That is a decision the school can make if it wants, but then the KHSAA is certainly within their rights to sanction that school if the order is overturned later.  That's because the KHSAA is a "voluntary" organization.

On the other hand, if a judge orders a player to be allowed to play without addressing the eligibility issue, the KHSAA is not within their rights to ask the school not to play him -- it would be grounds for a contempt of court citation. 

There is a fine line here that needs to be clarified, though.  The KHSAA should not be using the threat of later punishiment to circumvent a judicial finding in conflict with their own.  It is a form of ethical cluelessness that cannot be explained away as DeVries does, by invoking "fair[ness] to other teams" and the fact that the Tennesse and Indiana HSAA's also do it (for my money, that's just two more reasons why Kentucky should not).  DeVries' comments were patent nonsense, and should have been rejected out of hand by the Board of Education.

In summary, even though the KHSAA has an excuse that meets the bare threshold of plausibility for declaring Euton ineligible if we just read the words and toss reason to the four winds, the reality is that they are engaging in exactly the sort of autocratic behavior that the Herald-Leader has highlighted, and that they are under criticism for.  Change is needed, and that right soon.

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