(7-19-19) Eligibility in the OHSAA is an issue that is constantly being questioned by families of student-athletes and member schools.

Yesterday it became more complicated when Ohio Governor Mike DeWine signed off on the State Budget. The governor vetoed 25 line items, but left in a provision that the OHSAA feels will allow private schools to benefit private schools with foreign student transfers in the future.

OHSAA Executive Director Jerry Snodgrass told Spectrum News 1

“The challenge with that is, since they can only attend a non-public school, they would only have eligibility to participate in non-public schools for multiple years, upsetting the balance of competitiveness between our public and non-public schools.”

“We believe it will trigger a referendum proposal by schools, our member public schools to force that separation.”

In October of 2018, a case with a Stateline area school, Lima Senior, saw the Third Appellate Court of Appeals overrule an earlier decision made by the Allen County Court of Common Pleas.

The appeals court, according to a story posted by McGown/Markling Attorneys At Law  sided with the OHSAA, determining that the actions of voluntary associations, such as the OHSAA, are-

“final and conclusive and will not be reviewed by the courts in the absence of arbitrariness, fraud, or collusion.”

Because there was no evidence of arbitrariness, fraud, or collusion presented, the court determined these were irrelevant. As a result, the Ohio appellate court refused to intervene with OHSAA’s decision. The OHSAA rulings will generally be final and binding unless schools/students can show clear violations of arbitrariness, fraud, or collusion.

Eligibility issues can be turned over when lawmakers make it law, including attaching it to a future budget bill to overrule the OHSAA. This despite the above interpretation of the State Court just last October in the Lima Senior case.

BACKGROUND – Nelsons v. Ohio High School Athletic Assn., 2018-Ohio-4169

Factual Background – J.R. is a minor, who was born in 2002 in New York and is a United States citizen. J.R. moved to St. Thomas, U.S. Virgin Islands, with his biological parents, who remain residing there. {¶3}In August of 2016, J.R. moved to Lima, Ohio to live with the Nelsons. The Nelsons filed an application to become J.R.’s legal guardians on August 25, 2016, which was granted on January 27, 2017. During the 2016-2017 school year, J.R. attended middle school as an eighth grade student and then matriculated into Lima Senior High School as a ninth grade student for the 2017-2018 school year. J.R. sought to participate in interscholastic basketball, track, lacrosse, and any other athletic endeavor of his choice while attending Lima Senior. Lima Senior is a current member school of the OHSAA, and was also a member school during the 2017-2018 school year.

Defendant-Appellant, the Ohio High School Athletic Association (“OHSAA”) appeals the February 8, 2018 judgment of the Allen County Court of Common Pleas granting the request for injunctive relief filed by Robert and Nicole Nelson (collectively the “Nelsons”) as legal guardians of J.R., and finding J.R. eligible to participate in interscholastic athletics at Lima Senior High School, thereby overriding the decision of the OHSAA’s Executive Director Office on J.R.’s ineligibility.

In State ex rel. Ohio High School Athletic Ass’n. v. Judges, the Supreme Court of Ohio stated the general rule applicable to judicial review of internal decisions made by voluntary associations: The decisions of any kind of voluntary society or association in disciplining suspending, or expelling members are of a quasi judicial character. In such cases the courts never interfere except to ascertain whether or not the proceeding was pursuant to the rules and laws of the society, whether or not the proceeding was in good faith, and whether or not there was anything in the proceeding in violation of the laws of the land.

In another situation facing the OHSAA, the recent ruling (7-16-19) made by the Ohio Supreme Court to allow the Competitive Balance Plan (CBP) to be heard by the Hamilton County Common Pleas Court.  The court will consider a Cincinnati Greater Catholic League’s coed division challenge to the plan that helps determine which divisions high schools can compete in for state championships.

On August 15th, 2018 the Hamilton County Court issued a temporary restraining order (TRO) that prohibited the OHSAA from continuing to utilize a component of the  plan.

On August 27th, 2018 he Ohio Supreme Court granted the OHSAA’s motion for an emergency stay of enforcement of a temporary restraining order (TRO) issued August 15th (2018). The Supreme Court also stayed all proceedings in the Hamilton County action while it considers the merits of OHSAA’s Supreme Court complaint. That all changed this week with the court’s decision.

OHSAA officials and member schools could be seeing more and more eligibility changes like this in the future. One issue facing them is the added expense of going to court to try and defend their current transfer rules, regulations and CBP. In the past the OHSAA has decided to fight all of these issues that went to court…and have won the majority of those battles.  But state lawmakers could change all of that in the future after the recent budget bill change did that for foreign students.