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Matthew J. Mitten & Timothy Davis, Athlete Eligibility Requirements and Legal Protection of Sports Participation Opportunities, 8 Va. Sports & Ent. L.J. 71 (2008)

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8 Virginia Sports & Entertainment Law Journal 71 (2008)


This article compares and examines the existing legal frameworks governing athletic eligibility rules and dispute resolution processes for Olympic, professional, college, and high school sports from both private law and public law perspectives. At all levels of sports competition, monolithic sports leagues and governing bodies establish eligibility requirements and conditions that must be satisfied for an individual to participate in athletics. Most sports governing bodies have broad, exclusive authority to regulate a single sport or group of sports on either an international, national, or state-wide basis, which provides the corresponding power to exclude or limit athletic participation opportunities. In conducting our analysis, we consider whether athletes have an effective voice and/or voting rights in the eligibility rule-making process; the nature and effect of the eligibility rule; and the nature and scope of judicial or arbitral review of a sports governing body's eligibility rules, application, and enforcement. Our analysis reveals that although international and American law do not recognize any fundamental right to participate in Olympic, international, or professional sports, athletes are provided a means to seek independent review of eligibility decisions in each of these areas, usually through a system of private arbitration. In contrast, despite the significant benefits to participation in intercollegiate or interscholastic competition, high school and college athletes lack any of these procedural protections. We offer some suggestions for reform of this anomaly in the law of athlete eligibility.

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