Court Refuses to Overrule IHSA’s Decision to Postpone Fall Sports

Student athletes and their parents filed a class-action lawsuit against the IHSA, seeking a temporary restraining order to immediately overturn the COVID-related postponement of a majority of fall sports, including football, soccer, and volleyball. Specifically, the athletes and their parents alleged that the IHSA violated its own rules by unilaterally postponing the traditional fall sports without first holding a vote with its 800 member schools. They also argued that moving certain sports to the spring is causing irreparable harm to the student athletes, including hurting athletes’ ability to qualify for college admission and athletic scholarships.

The court denied the motion for a temporary restraining order, holding that the IHSA did not violate its rules because it had taken action during an emergency. In support of its decision, the court stated, “We have to recognize that again we’re in a pandemic. I’m sitting in a courtroom and everybody’s wearing a mask. I’m sitting behind plexiglass. We’re in an extraordinary circumstance and when things like this happen, people take action.” The court concluded by stating, “Drastic times call for drastic remedies. I think what the [IHSA] did was within their bounds.”

It is important to note that even if the court had issued the temporary restraining order, traditional fall sports like football, soccer, and girls’ volleyball would have remained on the sideline, along with any other sports deemed “higher risk” or “medium risk,” based upon the guidelines set forth in the Restore Illinois: All Sports Policy.

While the IHSA opposed the litigation, it did call for more transparency from the IDPH as to what standards the IHSA must meet to permit additional sports seasons to proceed prior to the spring. This falls on the heels of several neighboring states, including Minnesota and Michigan, reversing previous decisions and permitting fall sports. Most notably, Minnesota student-athletes and their parents filed an almost identical lawsuit on September 15, 2020, against the Minnesota State High School League over its decision to move the football and volleyball seasons to the spring. Six days after the lawsuit was filed, the League held a special meeting and ultimately reversed its prior decision, allowing the sports seasons to proceed this fall.

Ultimately, this case illustrates the difficult task of balancing the risks of COVID-19 against the physical, emotional, and academic benefits of youth sports.

For questions about this case or extracurricular activities in the COVID-19 era, please contact an attorney in our Students/Special Education practice group.

Source: Ruggles, et al. v. Illinois High School Association, Case No. 2020-CH-00552 (Filed Sept. 29, 2020)

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