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TribBlog: Delay of Game

A federal judge on Wednesday declined to rule on a request for an injunction filed by a group of high school sports officials seeking to prevent what they call a government takeover of an independent contracting agency.

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A federal judge on Wednesday declined to rule on a request for an injunction filed by a group of high school sports officials seeking to prevent what they call a government takeover of an independent contracting agency.

The Texas Association of Sport Officials, or TASO, filed suit against the University Interscholastic League after the latter amended its rules to make registration with the agency mandatory for all high school sports officials seeking to officiate athletic contests under its purview. The officials were given a November 1 deadline to comply, which some referees said was an attempt at strong-arming them to register or risk losing high-profile assignments the last week of the high school football season and during the playoffs. The UIL is represented by the Texas Attorney General’s office

U.S. District Judge Lee Yeakel delayed ruling on the injunction, and instead raised the issue of whether or not the federal courts had the jurisdiction to preside over the case.

“However I rule I am going to create chaos. The question is do I grant chaos with or without jurisdiction,” Yeakel said.

After more than five hours, both sides came to agreement in which the attorney general’s office will file a motion for dismissal based on jurisdiction by Oct. 29. TASO has until Nov. 8 to respond and a hearing that will ultimately decide the issue is scheduled Nov. 10. If the injunction is denied, the Nov. 1 registration deadline is pushed back to Dec. 1

When asked why the judge brought up the issue over jurisdiction, TASO attorney Matthew Jones said it was a “good question.”

“My thoughts are the judge was inclined to grant it; he just wanted to be sure he had the jurisdiction to do so,” he said. Attorneys with the Texas attorney general’s office declined to comment outside of the courtroom.

After the rule change, TASO alleged in court filings that the UIL was attempting to “take over, tax, oversee and regulate the occupation of sports officiating in the State of Texas” outside of its authority and in violation of the law. The UIL responded that the move is aimed at streamlining communication with the state’s officials and “to complete a short ‘officials compliance program’ to see to it that they have at least working knowledge of the constitution and the contest rules within the UIL.”

The ruling on Wednesday was anti-climactic after testimony in court that alleged the UIL was purposely withholding information from TASO — specifically new rule books for two varsity sports and an incident report following the death of an athlete this year — until after Wednesday's hearing. The testimony even prompted Yeakel to say the UIL’s actions “smacked to [him] of being almost helplessly childish.”

After the decision, Jones said it was “like waiting all day for a punt.”

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