Do Public School Athletic Leagues Have To Admit Private High Schools?


Liberty Christian Academy (LCA), a private high school in Lynchburg, Virginia, has filed an antitrust action against the Virginia High School League (VHSL), a non-profit organization of public high schools in Virginia.  The lawsuit was filed June 2, 2014 in the Charlottesville Division of the Western District of Virginia.

The VHSL organizes public schools into districts and regions for purposes of conducting athletic competitions and statewide playoffs.  LCA filed its lawsuit because, as a private school, LCA is barred from membership in the VHSL and claims to be unable, with limited exceptions, to schedule athletic games with the nearby public schools.  LCA complains that it has to travel far distances to play games against inferior opponents.  LCA argues that the VHSL's rules are akin to a group boycott and constitute an unreasonable restraint of trade in violation of federal and state antitrust laws.  The relevant markets alleged in the Complaint are the markets for commercial exhibition of high school football contests and basketball contests in Virginia. 

Although some states allow private high schools to join their public high school athletic leagues, other states have separate private and public leagues, such as Virginia, Maryland and Texas.  In the lawsuit, LCA argues that the prohibition on non-public high school membership in the VHSL has no pro-competitive purpose and cannot be justified on any claimed basis that it is necessary to promote fair on-field competition.  I suspect that the ability of private schools to recruit and give scholarships to football and basketball players from a wide geographic area (unlike public schools who have to find players within their own geographic district) would be one of the reasons for the VHSL's rule.

The Complaint's reference to the "integration of public and private schools into one athletic association" appears to suggest a strained analogy to civil rights and the racial integration of public schools in Virginia.  LCA should be very careful in suggesting any such analogy, given that LCA was specifically founded in 1967 as a segregation academy in response to the integration of public schools in Virginia.  There is no small amount of irony in LCA's complaint that it is being excluded and segregated from public school athletic competition.

Several public high school athletic programs are described in the Complaint.  These schools are very familiar to my ears: T.C. Williams in Alexandria, famous from the movie Remember the Titans; football powerhouse Oscar Smith High School in Chesapeake; and Brookville High School outside Lynchburg, my fathers' almar mater and the arch rival of my high school, Jefferson Forest.

More about the lawsuit can be found here and here.


DISCLAIMER: Because of the generality of this update, the information provided herein may not be applicable in all situations and should not be acted upon without specific legal advice based on particular situations.

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