Court Denies Plaintiff’s Bid To Coach Two Teams

Oct 26, 2007

A federal judge in the Western District of Washington has held that “the public’s greater interest in the preservation of (a high school athletic association’s authority) to pursue a competitive balance among its member schools and its athletes favors (the association) and a denial” of a motion for a preliminary injunction in a case involving a high school football coach, who sought also to coach his son’s middle school team.
The plaintiff, an assistant head coach of the Bellevue High School varsity football program, was seeking a waiver of the Washington Interscholastic Activities Association’s “out-of-season rule,” which limits such extracurricular coaching to 12 weeks.
The court noted that each year the WIAA publishes a handbook with the rules and regulations governing student participation in all sports and extracurricular activities creating a “level playing field” for the member schools so students compete under the same standards. Among them is “the out-of-season rule (, which) limits the amount of time that high school coaches may work with middle school athletes when a specific sport is not offered in the middle school.” The problem in the instant case is that the football season of the middle level team that the plaintiff coaches has “a thirteen week and four day season.”
After the WIAA denied the plaintiff’s request for a waiver, the plaintiff moved for a preliminary injunction: “(1) enjoining the WIAA from enforcing the out-of-season rule if plaintiff coaches the GEJFA team; or (2) requesting that the WIAA grant plaintiff an out-of-season rule waiver; or (3) requesting that the WIAA modify its rule and grant exemptions to coaches who coach at both a member high school and a community program.”
In its analysis, the court determined that it would review the plaintiff’s constitutional claim under a de novo standard of review, while reviewing the claim for wrongful denial of a waiver under the arbitrary and capricious standard.
The court found the equal protection claim wanting. “(The plaintiff) alleges in his complaint and motion that the out-of-season violates his fundamental right to coach high school varsity football and his son’s football team, and his fundamental right to ‘work for a living,’ and the out-of-season rule has ‘a disparate impact on those high school coaches who also coach at the middle school level.’
“First, (the plaintiff) has not shown that he has a fundamental right to coach high school football or his son’s football team. … Courts have rejected claims that coaching or participation in interscholastic sports is a fundamental right. See Schneeweis v. Jacobs, 771 F. Supp. 733, 738 (E.D. Va. 1991)
“The Court also rejects plaintiff’s characterization of the right at issue in this case as the fundamental right to work for a living. As the Ninth Circuit has stated, ‘[t]he [Supreme] Court has never held that the ‘right’ to pursue a profession is a fundamental right, such that any state-sponsored barriers to entry would be subject to strict scrutiny.’ Dittman v. California, 191 F.3d 1020, 1031 n.6 (9th Cir. 1999)
The court continued, building a case for a rational basis review. “… As defendant explains in its response, there is a rational relationship between the WIAA’s denial of plaintiff’s request for a waiver and a legitimate governmental purpose: to create a level playing field in Washington state interscholastic athletics. Enforcement of the out-of-season rule: (1) allows students to participate in a variety of activities without pressure from a coach to dedicate all of their time in one particular sport or activity; (2) discourages sport specialization at an early age; (3) maintains a competitive balance by restricting all teams to a designated sports season; (4) protects students from early athletic burnout; and (5) protects students from overuse injuries commonly found in youth sports. Based on this rational relationship to legitimate state interests, the Court concludes that it is unlikely that plaintiff will succeed on the merits with his equal protection claim.”
Turning to whether the WIAA’s denial of a waiver was arbitrary or capricious, the court concluded that “the WIAA’s decision to deny plaintiff a waiver of the out-of-season rule is rationally related to legitimate state interests. For this reason, the Court also concludes that the WIAA’s action in denying the waiver was not arbitrary, capricious, or contrary to law.”
The aforementioned rulings meant the plaintiff had to show that “the public interest and balance of hardships tip in [his] favor.” Sw. Voter Registration Ed. Project, 344 F.3d at 918.
The court held that “the harm that will befall plaintiff if he is not granted a waiver of the out-of-season rule is that he will have to refrain from coaching his son’s … team for one week and four days. … (h)is son’s team can continue to be coached by a substitute or assistant coach. Turning to the hardships to the WIAA if injunctive relief is granted, the Court finds that the balance tips in the WIAA’s favor. If the WIAA is instructed by the Court either to grant plaintiff a waiver of the out-of-season rule or to change the out-of-season rule, the WIAA’s ability to enforce and promulgate their rules will be diminished.
Additionally, inequities will result because other coaches within the WIAA’s jurisdiction will not have the same benefit of exceeding the out-of-season rule’s limit. The WIAA represents that the out-of-season rule protects young athletes physically and emotionally and it also creates a competitive balance among the 800 schools that comprise the WIAA. The potential harm of eroding this balance outweighs the loss plaintiff will experience if he cannot coach his son’s team for a week and four days.”
Patrick A.T. Jones v. Washington Interscholastic Activities Association; W.D. Wash.; No. C07-711RSL; 2007 U.S. Dist. LEXIS 54711; 7/26/07
Attorneys of Record: (for plaintiff) Marianne K Jones of Jones Law Group, Bellevue, WA. (for defendant) John Robert Olson of Washington Interscholastic Activities Assoc, Renton, WA.


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