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Brentwood Academy v. Tennessee Secondary School Athletic Assn.

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Constitutional Law Keyed to Chemerinsky

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Bloomberg Law

Citation. 531 U.S. 288 (2001)

Synopsis of Rule of Law. A private organization can be considered a state actor if there is sufficient entwinement between the state and the organization, such as here where the majority of members are public schools, and the leadership and governing body is made up of public school officials acting within their official capacity.


Facts. Tennessee Secondary School Athletic Association is a not-for-profit membership corporation organized to regulate interscholastic sport among private and public high school in Tennessee. Even though no school is forced to join, 84% of the membership comes from public schools, which is almost all of the state’s public schools.  There is no other authority regulating athletic competition, and a school’s team can only play against the team of another member school.  The association has a legislative arm, and a control board, and the voting membership is limited to high school principals, assistant principals and superintendents elected b y the member schools.  Member schools pay dues, but the bulk of the funding comes from the member team’s athletic tournaments, many held at public arenas rented by the association. Ever since the association was incorporated, Tennessee’s State Board of Education has acknowledged the associations functions in providing standards, rules and regulations for interscholastic competition. It even adopted a rule expressly designating the association as the organization to supervise and regulate athletics.

Brentwood sued the academy when, in 1997, the board of control found that Brentwood violated a rule prohibiting “undue influence”ť in recruiting athletes, and placed the athletic program on probation for four years, making them ineligible to compete in playoffs for two years, and imposed a $3000 fine.  At the time the penalties were imposed all voting members were public school administrators.


Issue.  Does a statewide athletic association, incorporated to regulate competition among public and private secondary schools, engage in state action?


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