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HALL v. NCAA

November 21, 1997

REGINALE HALL, and ANNETTE HALL, Plaintiffs,
v.
THE NATIONAL COLLEGIATE ATHLETIC ASSOCIATION, and BRADLEY UNIVERSITY, Defendants.



The opinion of the court was delivered by: KEYS

 Before the Court is Plaintiffs' application for a preliminary injunction, pursuant to Federal Rule of Civil Procedure 65. For the reasons set forth below, the Court denies Plaintiffs' application for a preliminary injunction.

 PROCEDURAL HISTORY

 Plaintiffs filed the underlying nine count Verified Complaint for Injunctive Relief and Damages ("Complaint"), on October 17, 1997, and at the same time moved for a temporary restraining order ("TRO"), preliminary injunction, and expedited discovery. On that same date, an ex parte TRO was issued by Judge Blanche M. Manning. The expiration date of that first TRO was October 22, 1997. On October 21, 1997, another TRO was issued by Judge Manning. That TRO also ordered that expedited discovery was to be served on October 22, 1997, with responses due by October 27, 1997. Further, the second TRO set a hearing on Plaintiffs' motion for preliminary injunction for October 31, 1997 -- the same date the second TRO would expire. The preliminary injunction matter was referred to this Court on October 29, 1997. On October 31, 1997, this Court held an all-day evidentiary hearing on Plaintiffs' motion for preliminary injunction. *fn1" On November 4, 1997, the parties consented to the exercise of jurisdiction by this Court, exclusively, for all matters arising in the case. This Court issued a third TRO on November 4, 1997, which expires today, November 21, 1997.

 FINDINGS OF FACT *fn2"

 I. The Parties

 Reginale Hall ("Reggie") is a 6'7" tall, eighteen year old African-American who excels at basketball, and aspires to play professionally some day. Reggie graduated from Providence St. Mel High School ("St. Mel") on June 1, 1997. St. Mel is a private, Catholic high school with a student body comprised entirely of African-Americans. Reggie was highly recruited nationally by a number of colleges and universities, including Bradley University ("Bradley") in Peoria. He is currently a freshman at Bradley.

 Annette Hall is Reggie's mother. The National Collegiate Athletic Association ("NCAA") is an unincorporated association made up of approximately 1,200 member institutions -- typically public and private colleges and universities located throughout the United States. NCAA members establish general policies at annual conventions, and then various cabinets and committees are responsible for implementing those policies throughout the year. The NCAA, according to its constitution and bylaws, has several purposes, including improving intercollegiate athletic programs and encouraging members to adopt eligibility rules that comply with satisfactory standards of scholarship, sportsmanship, and amateurism. Bradley is a member of the NCAA, Division I.

 II. The Dispute

 The matter at bar involves, for the most part, a dispute over four courses that Reggie took while enrolled at St. Mel. The inclusion or exclusion of the four courses -- Microsoft Office, Microsoft Works, Scripture, and Ethics/Morality -- is critical to the Court's analysis of the propriety of the NCAA's ultimate determination that Reggie is ineligible to play Division I basketball this year.

 III. NCAA Eligibility Requirements

 Pursuant to its bylaws, the NCAA has established minimum academic eligibility requirements that a new college student must fulfill in order to attain the status of "qualifier". *fn3" As a "qualifier" a student is eligible to practice with intercollegiate teams, compete in intercollegiate events, and receive financial aid or scholarships. *fn4" NCAA members are prohibited from permitting "nonqualified" students -- those who fail to attain either aforementioned status -- to practice with the intercollegiate teams, to compete in intercollegiate events, or to receive financial aid (other than purely need based).

 IV. "Core Courses"

 The NCAA must approve of any class claimed by a high school to be a "core course". The NCAA generally defines "core courses" as recognized academic courses (as opposed to vocational or personal-service courses) offering fundamental instructional components in specified areas of study. (Mem. Supp. Mot. Dismiss, Ex. 1.) At least 75% of the instructional content of such a course must be in one or more of the required areas of study, set forth in the NCAA bylaws, like English, mathematics, natural science, and social science. (Mem. Supp. Mot. Dismiss, Ex. 1.) In addition to these areas of study, a student must also take "additional core courses" in at least one of the following subjects: foreign language, computer science, philosophy, or comparative religion. (Mem. Supp. Mot. Dismiss, Ex. 1.)

 In order to qualify as core courses, religion classes must be non-doctrinal. St. Mel's Ethics/Morality class syllabus, however, was entitled "Growing in Christian Morality". (Defs.' Ex. 19.) Course work included prayer, chapel visits, journal/reflection, and study of the Christian vision of morality. (Defs.' Ex. 19; Tr. 149-50.)

 Reggie's guidance counselor at St. Mel, Art Murnan, had serious doubts about whether the Scripture class "would get through or not". (Tr. at 134, 147.) The textbook for that course was The New American Bible, with the New Catholic translation. (Defs.' Ex. 11.) The textbook's table of contents included an introduction to the Catholic Study Edition, a history of how the Bible came about, the purpose of the Bible, how to study the Bible, a list of the Catholic Popes, suggested readings for the liturgical year, and Sunday readings of holy scripture. (Defs.' Ex. 11.)

 As to the two Microsoft computer courses at issue, it was Mr. Murnan's understanding that, as long as a computer class went beyond keyboarding and word processing, it qualified as a core course. (Tr. at 158.) However, the NCAA Initial-Eligibility Clearinghouse ("Clearinghouse"), which is an independent contractor with the NCAA (Tr. at 221), and not a party to this lawsuit, *fn5" stated that, for a computer science course to count as an "additional core course", "at least 75 percent of the instruction in the course must go beyond keyboarding and word processing and must be in areas such as the development and implementation of electronic spreadsheets, electronics networking, database management and computer programming." (Defs.' Ex. 14.)(emphasis added).

 According to the Microsoft Office course syllabus, one of the goals of the class was "to develop enough keyboarding skill to be able to do useful work in a timely manner." (Defs.' Ex. 17; Tr. at 144.) The other goal was "to demonstrate the knowledge and understanding of the basic functions of Microsoft Office; these are included but are not limited to: Word Processing. . . ." (Defs.' Ex. 17; Tr. at 144-45.) St. Mel's principal, in a December 1996 letter he sent to the Clearinghouse, said that "there is no keyboarding practice in this class." (Defs.' Ex. 20.) Contrastingly, the course syllabus stated that "keyboarding practice will be included in the course work." (Defs.' Ex. 17.) Additionally, the Microsoft Office course syllabus, for the first quarter, included: keyboarding skills, correct posture for typing, intermediate keyboarding, introduction to the software, word processing, and advanced word processing. (Defs.' Ex. 17.) Nothing in the entire first quarter qualified as computer science under the Clearinghouse's definition. (Tr. at 146.) In fact, according to the syllabus, 50% of the class was spent on instruction/skills explicitly excluded from the NCAA's definition. Therefore, even if the remaining 50% of the semester was spent entirely on fulfilling "core" computer science components (and it is not at all clear that the remaining instruction would have), that remainder would cover only 50% of the course -- thereby falling short of the 75% necessary to count as a core class.

 Similarly, the Microsoft Works course syllabus for the first quarter included keyboarding, posture, intermediate keyboarding, and formatting diskettes. (Defs.' Ex. 18.) St. Mel's principal, in that same letter to the Clearinghouse, dated December 1996, said that "there is no keyboarding practice in this class." (Defs.' Ex. 20.) Again, the course syllabus stated that "keyboarding practice will be included in the course work." (Defs.' Ex. 18.)

 Given the foregoing, the Court finds that the Clearinghouse, and ultimately the NCAA, was correct in determining that these four courses did not fulfil the requirements of core courses, and that such determination was not made arbitrarily or in bad faith. Furthermore, the Halls have not proven that either the Clearinghouse, or NCAA, applied the core course criteria differently to applicants of different races.

 V. Guidance Reggie Received While at St. Mel and the Attempt to Qualify the Four Disputed Courses as Core

 The Halls contend that they were not given timely notice of potential core GPA problems. They apparently contend that Reggie's difficulty in achieving the prerequisite core GPA/ACT was not communicated to them, and that they had no idea that his eligibility was in jeopardy (until after he graduated). This contention, however, is not credible. The Halls were at least generally aware of the NCAA's requirements. (Tr. at 55, 103-107, 113-14.) Bradley also alerted them to Reggie's potential problem multiple times.

 Bradley, through its assistant basketball coach, Pat Donahue, maintained a great deal of contact with the Halls during the latter part of Reggie's high school tenure. On several occasions, Bradley provided the Halls with written guidelines on the specific grades Reggie needed to achieve in order to be eligible to play college basketball.

 Around the start of Reggie's senior year of high school, on August 1, 1996, Coach Donahue wrote to the Halls (after reviewing Reggie's transcript) and outlined the classes and grades (as well as the ACT score) necessary for NCAA eligibility. (Defs.' Ex. 1.) Coach Donahue noted in his letter that "their [ sic ] is lots of work to do . . . ." (Defs.' Ex. 1.) Coach Donahue's calculation of necessary classes did not include the four courses at issue here: Microsoft Works, Microsoft Office, Ethics/Morality, and Scripture. *fn6" (Defs.' Ex. 2.) The grades that Coach Donahue said were necessary for eligibility were A's and B's in classes such as English and science -- some of these would be replacement grades for C's and D's that Reggie earned previously in the same classes. (Defs.' Ex. 2.)

 The 1996-1997 school year was the first time Reggie's guidance counselor, Mr. Murnan, ever had any involvement with NCAA eligibility issues. (Tr. at 137.) Mr. Murnan was a track coach and freshman guidance counselor, who had been unofficially providing guidance counseling to student athletes at St. Mel for years. (Tr. at 129, 136.) During Reggie's senior year, Mr. Murnan first became officially involved in the NCAA eligibility process. (Tr. at 136-37.) Apparently, a different St. Mel staff member was designated to handle NCAA forms each year. (Tr. at 138.) St. Mel did not have a procedure or centralized filing system to deal with all the required NCAA forms. (Tr. at 137-38.)

 At some point (possibly around this time), *fn7" Ms. Hall sent in Reggie's Clearinghouse Student Release Form with a check for approximately $ 18, so that St. Mel would be authorized to send Reggie's transcript and ACT scores to the Clearinghouse, and so that the Clearinghouse could process that information in order to ascertain his eligibility under NCAA requirements. (Defs.' Ex. 24.) Ms. Hall testified that she understood that the check she sent in was a processing fee designed to defray the costs of clerical work necessary to process Reggie's form. (Tr. at 77.)

 The Clearinghouse brochure, entitled "Making Sure You are Eligible to Participate in College Sports", directed student athletes to rely on their high school guidance counselors to make sure their core curriculum met NCAA requirements. (Defs.' Ex. 24.) Reggie did not fully understand the NCAA requirements for core courses and relied on what Mr. Murnan, and his "coaches" told him. (Tr. at 104.) Neither the NCAA nor St. Mel gave Mr. Murnan any training about how to deal with eligibility requirements. Moreover, prior to Reggie, the last St. Mel student recruited for college athletics was Lowell Hamilton, more than a decade earlier. (Tr. at 167.)

 It is unclear exactly when St. Mel first sought to get NCAA approval for the two Microsoft computer classes at issue here. However, back on May 7, 1996, the Clearinghouse sent St. Mel a Form 48-H *fn8" Confirmation, listing approved core courses. *fn9" (Defs.' Ex. 3.) The second page of that Confirmation discussed "non-core courses". (Defs. Ex. 3.) Microsoft Office and Microsoft Works were specifically discussed on the second page as "changed definition" courses; they were deemed unacceptable if taken any time after the 1992-1993 academic year. (Defs.' Ex. 3.)

 It appears that, by the fall of 1996, Bradley had determined that Reggie was deficient with regard to the initial eligibility index -- i.e. his ACT/GPA combination. (Defs.' Ex. 9.) In September of 1996, Bradley began to work directly with St. Mel on Reggie's behalf; specifically, Bradley asked St. Mel to send over its Form 48-H Confirmation. (Defs.' Ex. 10.) The form that Bradley received listed, inter alia, Computer Science, Computer Science/Adv., and Programming as core courses. *fn10" (Defs.' Ex. 10.) However, that same form indicated that Microsoft Office and Microsoft Works were not acceptable core classes, if taken after the 1992-1993 academic year. (Defs,' Ex. 10.)

 Mr. Murnan eventually determined, at some point in 1996, that the Microsoft Office and Microsoft Works courses had previously been submitted to the Clearinghouse as core courses and that they had been rejected. (Tr. 138.)

 On October 17, 1996, the principal of St. Mel added his "corrections" to the Clearinghouse's May 7, 1996, Form 48-H Confirmation, seeking approval of the Microsoft Office and Microsoft Works courses (again -- despite their previous denial) as core courses for the 1996-1997 academic year, as well as Scripture, Ethics/Morality, *fn11" and nine other courses that Reggie had taken or was currently enrolled in, including Composition I. *fn12" (Defs.' Ex. 3.)

 On November 5, 1996, Reggie was halfway through the first semester of his senior year. Coach Donahue wrote to Ms. Hall about Reggie's "updated situation," and said that if Reggie kept the quarter grades he had at that point and got (at least) B's in his last semester, he would still need a 79 sum *fn13" ACT score to be eligible. *fn14" (Defs.' Ex. 7.) Coach Donahue included the two Microsoft computer classes in his calculations. (Defs.' Ex. 7.)

 Reggie made an early commitment to attend Bradley, in November of 1996. On November 19, 1996, the Halls signed a Bradley financial aid agreement which stated that "I understand that my failure to meet the scholastic requirements for athletic awards. . . will render this agreement null and void." (Defs.' Ex. 6.)

 In December of 1996, Bradley noticed that Reggie's Composition I class was not on the Form 48-H Confirmation. This is when Craig Dahlquist, Bradley's assistant athletic director for financial and compliance affairs, became involved with Reggie's NCAA certification. (Tr. at 176, 179-80.) At that time, he "knew that there was some concern over [Reggie] being eligible for the upcoming or the next school year. . . ." (Tr. at 176.) Prior to that point, Bradley had been "actively involved in looking at [Reggie's] eligibility situation and assuring that proper courses were taken, studying grade point averages . . . ." (Tr. at 176.) Bradley had also conveyed the potential core GPA problem to the Halls. (Tr. at 176-77.) Before Mr. Dahlquist's involvement, Bradley had

 
studied all the different possibilities from improving test scores to improving the grade point average through either retaking courses for better grades or taking different core courses which would apply, investigating the possibility of getting some courses that had been denied by the NCAA Clearinghouse to an acceptable status so that those courses could be put on the 48-C form and evaluated appropriately.

 (Tr. at 177.)(emphasis added). However, once Mr. Dahlquist got involved, he knew that the two (disputed and previously rejected) Microsoft courses would be "key" to Reggie's eligibility. *fn15" (Tr. at 178.)

 At that time, Mr. Dahlquist checked with the Clearinghouse and learned that the two Microsoft computer courses were still in a "changed definition status, which led us to believe that they had been submitted at least one time before and that in our opinion they needed to be submitted again. . . ." (Tr. at 178.)

 Eventually, Bradley requested that St. Mel send it a copy of the Form 48-H Confirmation. (Tr. at 179; Defs.' Ex. 3.) When it received the form, around late December 1996, Bradley became concerned about both Microsoft computer classes, as well as Composition I. (Tr. at 180; Defs.' Ex. 3.) Although the second page indicated to Bradley that the two computer courses "had been denied, were not acceptable courses, . . . the fact that the Composition I class was not on there [at all] was a concern to us, and we directed our attention to that." (Tr. at 179-180.)

 In January of 1997, Reggie began the second semester of his senior year. He was taking Ethics/Morality, a required religion course. (Defs.' Ex. 10.) Bradley asked St. Mel to drop Reggie from that class and place him in a confirmed core course. (Defs.' Ex. 10.) Ethics/Morality, ...


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