Eleven Black Football Players File Fourteenth Amendment Civil Rights Complaint Against Maricopa County Community College District in Federal Court Over its Decision to End Football Program.

Mar 1, 2019

By Justin B. Kozubal, MSA & Michael S. Carroll, PhD
On or around December 31, 2018, eleven Black football players from Mesa Community College (MCC) in Mesa, Arizona filed a complaint in the United States District Court for the District of Arizona against numerous Defendants, including Maricopa County Community College District (MCCCD), Maricopa County Community College District Board (MCCD Board), board president, school chancellor, and individual board members. Plaintiffs are seeking equitable relief by MCCCD for the decision to eliminate all football programs throughout the MCCCD school system, claiming the decision violates Plaintiffs’ rights under the Fourteenth Amendment.
Plaintiffs in the Action for Declaratory and Injunctive Relief belong to a protected class (African American) and accepted scholarships to play football at MCCD colleges. The complaint states that the purpose of accepting the scholarships within MCCCD was to obtain a scholarship at a four-year university and details all thirteen Plaintiffs’ academic and athletic backgrounds. Plaintiffs further detail the adverse effects caused by the elimination of football, including but not limited to, (a) financial opportunity; (b) inability to pursue a four-year-degree due to out-of-state tuition costs; (c) inability to pursue other schools due to financial aid deadlines; (d) inability to pursue other schools due to offers being withdrawn (e) inability to further education (f)inability to attract division one universities due to a lack of opportunity to display athletic abilities; (g) inability to complete prerequisite work because scholarships have been revoked (h) inability to develop character and growth as a person due to lack of coaching (i) inability to pursue other schools due to a lack of opportunity to improve football skills (j) and inability to mature with proper mentorship, structure, and camaraderie.
Arguments & Decisions
Defendants allege that the decision to eliminate football program is due to operating costs and cite results to a commissioned 2012 task force to examine the school system’s departments. The Maricopa Priorities Athletic Task Force (MPATF) was formed in 2012 in order to see how students might be better served. After a number of years and evaluation, the MPATF recommended that the football programs across MCCCD colleges be eliminated. In October of 2017, the Chancellor of the MCCCD system, Dr. Maria Harper-Marinick, issued an email stating that the football programs in MCCCD colleges would not be eliminated, but just four months later, this changed. In February 2018, a press release was issued stating that football as a sponsored sport would be terminated at the conclusion of the 2018 season, citing ongoing financial constraints and decreased state support, forcing a reprioritization of funds. Additionally, Defendants cited high insurance claims and premiums, poor academic success by football players, loan defaults by football players, and the projected cost of $20 million dollars to maintain the football program in the future as reasons for eliminating the program.
Plaintiffs argue that the decision to eliminate football was prompted by political and racial animus and further assert that terminating the football programs violate the U.S. Civil Rights Act and the Fourteenth Amendment, alleging that the MCCCD Governing Board’s action constitutes an act of racial discrimination. Plaintiffs argue the task force exaggerated the costs of needed stadium improvements and other “wish-list” costs and that task force members did not act neutrally and displayed racial bias. Further, Plaintiffs claim the average GPA for athletes was 2.99, which was higher than the average of non-athletes at the school. Plaintiffs also argue that course success rate was 74% for athletes as compared to 75% for the entire student population. Plaintiffs allege that no study exists that demonstrates that future costs to maintain the football program would exceed $20 million dollars, and that the numbers being used by the MPATF were erroneously inflated by including costs related to “wish list” stadium improvements initiated by the system previously. Plaintiffs further claim that State Legislation funding was cut years before the task force and was therefore not a relevant reason. In addition to issues raised by plaintiffs against the MPATF as a whole, plaintiffs further allege that certain members of the task force were not neutral or impartial in their participation on the task force, including at least one member having made racist remarks against African Americans over the years. Plaintiffs seek declaratory relief as provided in 28 U.S.C. § 2201, et seq. Plaintiffs pray for judgment against Defendants and ask courts to declare for the actions in the complaint to be in violation of the Civil Rights Act of 1964, Title 42 United States Code 2000d and of the Civil Rights Act of 1971, Title 42 United States Code Section 1983 and the 14th Amendment to the United State Constitution. Plaintiffs seek attorney fees, costs, and other relief that the court deems just and proper.
Justin B. Kozubal is an Executive Professor of Sport Management at Capital University and PhD student Troy University specializing in research related to sport law and risk management in sport and recreation.
Michael S. Carroll is an Associate Professor of Sport Management at Troy University specializing in research related to sport law and risk management in sport and recreation. He has published over 30 articles and delivered over 50 presentations at professional conferences. He lives in Orlando, FL.


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