The Utah High School Activities Association (UHSAA) has filed a lawsuit against the State of Utah, the Utah State Board of Education (USBOE) and Utah Attorney General Sean Reyes in a bid to have a law passed in March — one that mandates government oversight of the non-profit group — declared unconstitutional.
The lawsuit, which was filed on Wednesday, Sept. 27 in Third District Court in Salt Lake City, claims that punishment for a May 2016 football recruiting violation by Summit Academy set in effect a chain of events that resulted in the Utah Legislature passing a bill to mandate government oversight of UHSAA — a first for any non-profit organization in the state.
Local Utah school districts created UHSAA in 1927 as a means of governing school activities that were separate from, although complementary to, the core educational function of the schools.
“For decades, [UHSAA] has maintained a cordial and cooperative relationship with the USBOE and the Utah Legislature,” the lawsuit states. “There was never a time when the UHSAA declined to make requested and necessary adjustments to its rules or procedures when the USBOE indicated a specific educational or procedural need.
In the past, the USBOE has always taken the position that it never intended to substitute its judgment regarding the rules and procedures governing high school extra-curricular activities for that of the local districts.”
The lawsuit alleges that in the spring of 2016 UHSAA was provided with evidence that a Summit Academy football coach had been engaged in recruiting students for the purpose of playing football.
Such recruiting is prohibited by a long-standing UHSAA rule.
UHSAA’s suit contends it afforded Summit both an initial hearing and an appeals hearing. At each hearing it was determined that the coach had recruited and penalties were imposed. Among other penalties, including a fine and an audit, the hearing panel imposed a post-season ban for Summit football. On appeal, Summit consented to all the penalties but argued that the post-season ban was too harsh. The appeals panel vacated the post-season ban.
The lawsuit also alleges that in August 2016, Summit sought transfer ineligibility waivers for students to play football. Several applications were granted, based on the evidence presented. Two were not.
“Following the denial of those waiver requests, representatives of Summit were enraged and complained that the school would lose the tuition money of those students who wanted to transfer to Summit to play football,” UHSAA contends in its complaint. “Summit threatened the UHSAA, reminding the UHSAA that the Board of Trustees of Summit included the chair of the USBOE, David Crandall, and the Speaker of the Utah House of Representatives, Greg Hughes, and threatening the UHSAA should the eligibility of the two players not be granted. In fact, representatives of Summit said that the UHSAA would be ‘destroyed.’”
The Times-Independent emailed Crandall and left voicemails with his office in Draper, though none were returned by deadline for this story.
According to UHSAA, within a month of those threats, the USBOE drafted rules relating to transfers and penalties for recruiting violations that were intended to supersede UHSAA’s long-standing transfer rules.
“UHSAA alleges ... that these proposed rules were sponsored and advanced by Crandall who, as the process began and continued, failed to disclose his extraordinary conflict of interest or to recuse himself,” the complaint states.
The lawsuit also alleges that Hughes publicly threatened to have the Utah State Auditor, John Dougall, investigate UHSAA finances — even though UHSAA is a private organization falling outside of the purview of the auditor’s oversight — and even though the dispute with Summit had nothing to do with UHSAA’s finances.
“Hughes was upset by specific adverse decisions of a private entity and sought to punish the UHSAA by placing it under state legislative control,” the complaint states.
The Utah House of Representatives approved a bill to impose oversight on UHSAA on March 6, with the Utah Senate approving the bill on March 9. That bill was eventually codified as Utah Code Annotated, Section 53A-1-1601-1605.
“[The act] was written expressly to bring the UHSAA — a private, non-profit corporation — under state regulatory control, even going so far as to describe the UHSAA as an ‘agency,’” the complaint alleges. “Because these rules and this legislation specifically burden UHSAA without applying similar burdens to any other private, non-profit corporation, they constitute unlawful special legislation in violation of Article 6, Section 26 of the Utah Constitution ... and violates Article 1, Section 22 of the Utah Constitution.”
The new law also subjects UHSAA — and only UHSAA — to the Open Public Meetings Act, the Governmental Records Act and the Utah Public Officers’ and Employees’ Ethics Act.
“In the past, these provisions have been applied exclusively to state agencies,” the complaint alleges. “No other private, non-profit entity in the state is subject to these regulatory provisions.”
As an example, UHSAA cites other non-profits with a similar scope and mission — such as the Utah School Nurse Association, the Utah High School Rodeo Association and the Utah Education Association — as groups not subjected to such oversight.
The new law also dismantled UHSAA’s existing 32-member governing board and created a 15-member board —with restrictions on who can serve on the board.
“Many members of the UHSAA are private schools. By subjecting a private, non-profit corporation to the requirements of Utah’s open meetings and open records laws, by dismantling the 32-member governing board, and by creating a state-run entity to adjudicate the decisions of a private, non-profit corporation, the state is damaging the contractual rights of UHSAA and its members and denying them the benefit of their bargain,” the complaint states.