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June 12, 2014
Liberty Christian versus The VHSL
Liberty Christian Academy filed a lawsuit against the Virginia High School League last week in a bid to join the VHSL. The suit claims that preventing Liberty Christian from participating as a VHSL member is a violation of federal antitrust law. LCA alleges that the exclusion from the VHSL is unfair on a number of grounds, including, but not limited to, the idea that the LCA should have a right to compete against VHSL schools in the same economic "marketplace."
The theory is that LCA is being harmed economically by not being a VHSL member, both because the VHSL schools won't schedule them (thus reducing revenue for potential marquee match-ups against local teams) and because the exclusion increases the amount of traveling that LCA teams must endure.
Before I get into the specifics of this case, let's take a quick, historical detour.
Liberty Christian opened in 1967 as Lynchburg Christian Academy. It was one of many private schools that popped up around Virginia in the 1950s and 1960s in an effort to maintain all-white student bodies as public schools began to integrate.
The VHSL existed since the early part of the century, but many of the competitive aspects of public-school sports were more informal and less organized than what we've seen in modern times. A glance at the VHSL record book shows that, prior to the late 1960s, many state championships were determined differently, held intermittently, or didn't exist at all.
That began to change around the time
the VIA merged with the VHSL. The
was the analogous organization for black-only public schools. By the time the VIA and
VHSL agreed to merge
in 1969, each had member schools that were integrated.
It no longer made any sense to have two
separate organizations for public schools.
A massive reorganization effort accompanied the merger,
and, by 1970,
the "modern" system of Virginia high school athletics was in place.
fact that a healthy percentage of
private schools remained white-only after public-school integration was
barrier to any discussion of merging public and private athletics. But it wasn't the only one.
addition to the racial element, other
factors made a discussion of public / private merger a non-starter. There was a concern on
both sides about the
different educational and academic "missions" of private schools versus
the biggest concern,
particularly once the integration issue became moot, has been over
brings us back to the LCA
Christian claims that
the VHSL points system that applies only to public schools creates a
disincentive for VHSL members to play LCA.
They argue that this amounts to what is called a "group
they say, is illegal, adding that 47 of
the 50 states "already permit non-public high schools to regularly
participate in commercial athletic contests with public high schools."
reading the complaint, I
think LCA has a case, albeit not
nearly as strong of one as it contends.
That's not unexpected, of course, as it's plaintiff's
responsibility to paint the rosiest picture possible for their side. But there are some
starters, LCA overstates the point when
it says that the VHSL excludes them from competition.
As everyone reading this knows, there's no
rule preventing VHSL schools from scheduling LCA.
In fact, LCA's teams compete against VHSL
schools currently, although certainly not nearly as much as they play
private schools. The
played Brunswick. The
played E. C. Glass. The
volleyball team played Jefferson Forest.
And so on.
those contests are the exception, but
the existence of such match-ups still helps to undermine LCA's
contention. If it's
truly a "boycott," the VHSL is doing
a horrible job of enforcing it.
the primary reason that teams won't
play LCA isn't due to VHSL non-membership.
I'll get to that in a second, but consider for now another
the LCA argument: Even if LCA were granted admission into the VHSL, the
alignment plan-the one that LCA contends has made things even
permit public schools to decline to play LCA during the regular season. That's an important facet
of this, because a
big piece of LCA's argument is that they're missing out on lucrative
the conference setup means that
the other teams in LCA's conference wouldn't even have to play them
happens routinely now
among public schools that have been VHSL members for their entire
most schools try to
schedule such games where possible.
However, especially for schools that are geographically
their conference-mates (which LCA would be, by the way), playing those
doesn't always make sense.
order for LCA to argue that they would
be playing a lot more "big" games against public competition, they
to concede that the travel issue really isn't that much of a problem. That's because, like many
VHSL schools under
the new alignment, LCA would be traveling quite a bit if it were to
play the top
schools in its hypothetical VHSL conference.
be honest, though, all of that is a
collateral issue. We
know it, and LCA
knows it. The crux
of the problem is
maintains that it is willing to abide
by VHSL rules. That
would mean, among
other things, no recruiting. Counsel
LCA has been quoted as saying that LCA doesn't currently recruit, which
dubious-and a problematic position to take if the goal is to force a
say for the sake of argument that LCA
doesn't "recruit" in a literal sense.
There are still major hurdles to them coming into
compliance with VHSL
one thing, they would
need to limit their student body to a reasonable, finite geographic
comparable to that from which VHSL member schools typically draw. Secondly, the tuition
advantages that they
give to all students vis a vis Liberty University would have to
disappear. No VHSL
school can compete with that kind of
this case is decided on the merits, I
honestly believe the VHSL would have a real shot at winning. One easy step the VHSL
could take to undercut
Liberty Christian would be to call LCA's bluff by changing its rules so
teams get points for playing LCA (while still keeping LCA out of the
VHSL). That would
remove one of the major components
of LCA's argument. I
think LCA would
find that it would have just as much trouble scheduling VHSL opponents
it does now.
I wonder if the VHSL has the will or
the finances to fight this battle.
won't be cheap. The
LCA has retained is an elite, outstanding New York firm. Sidebar: I'm guessing that
opportunity LCA is being "denied" is smaller than the legal bill LCA
up if this suit ran its course to conclusion.
But I digress . . .
the VHSL decides not to fight, I would
guess that they'll take action similar to what their Texas counterparts
did: There, a couple of
private school powerhouses tried to sue to gain entry to the Texas
school athletic organization. The
organization eventually relented, but crafted its new regulations so
that-SURPRISE!-the only private schools that fit the requisite
criteria just happened to be the
could see the VHSL doing something
similar here if it doesn't want to endure costly litigation. The question would be:
Will LCA be able to
comply with all necessary VHSL rules without totally destroying the
that have made it a powerhouse? Or, faced with the
prospect of doing so, will
LCA simply amend its pleadings slightly to demand entry into the VHSL
giving up drawing from outside a traditional "zone" or helping with
that does happen, I'm not sure all
will be lost, but a lot will. Even
being forced to play "up," as LCA
undoubtedly would be, the advantage that LCA would have would be
Allowing schools like LCA into the VHSL without vigorously requiring them to comply with all VHSL rules would be a more fundamental (and far more unwelcome) shift than the 2013 realignment.
I was a full-time writer and editor at VirginiaPreps for over 15 years. I may be found at The Axis of Ego. Also, please "like" The Axis of Ego on Facebook HERE. You can follow me on Twitter @TheAxisOfEgo, but I still keep my @CRTomGarrett handle active for sports-only news, like passing along scores, etc.