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Abstract

High school sports have evolved into a large, complex business enterprise, complete with seven-figure broadcast contracts and $60 million stadiums rivaling collegiate facilities. Some 8 million Americans take part in school-sponsored competitive athletics each year, and their health and safety is of undeniable public concern. Because of their popularity and outsized cultural significance, interscholastic sporting events regularly become theaters of combat for the political and social issues of the day, from desegregation to women's equality to LGBT rights. Yet despite the intense public interest in interscholastic sports, the public's ability to stay informed about how sporting events are organized and governed is uncertain. States and counties have increasingly "outsourced" oversight of athletics to nonprofit "athletic associations" that operate in a legal gray area between public and private. As a result, the same state open-records and open-meetings laws that entitle concerned citizens to keep watch over their tax dollars and their children's safety within the public school system may not apply with full force in the realm of athletics. In this article, researchers from the Brechner Center for Freedom of Information examine the evolving legal status of high school athletic associations, and how legislatures and the judiciary have dealt with issues of transparency and accountability when school policymaking gets "privatized" under the supervision of nominally corporate entities. The authors describe the results of a nationwide freedom-of-information survey to test the willingness of athletic associations to produce documents that, if held directly by a public K-12 school, indisputably would be accessible to the public. The results are mixed, reflecting the failure of state open-government laws to keep pace with the evolving way in which public information and public assets are being managed today. The article concludes by recommending that states clarify their open-government statutes so that "shadow governments" – athletic associations, school board associations, municipal leagues, and comparable entities – inarguably are subject to the same accountability standards as their member agencies.

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Creative Commons Attribution-Noncommercial-No Derivative Works 4.0 License
This work is licensed under a Creative Commons Attribution-Noncommercial-No Derivative Works 4.0 License.

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