A student-athlete, who was denied an opportunity to walk on to the University of Utah football team, allegedly because of his criminal past, has now sued Athletic Director Chris Hill and former university president Bernie Machen, claiming they violated his civil rights.
Sione Havili, who filed his lawsuit last month in Third District Court, alleged specifically that the defendants made an “arbitrary and capricious” decision to keep him off the team, even though he had “met all . . . eligibility requirements to participate in intercollegiate athletics.” The lawsuit also alleges that Havili was denied “due process of law” because he was not afforded an avenue of appeal after the athletic director made his decision.
Havili’s checkered past stemmed from a 1998 incident when he and five other teenagers fire-bombed an empty house. Havili was not immediately arrested. By the time investigators became aware of his involvement, Havili had begun serving a Latter Day Saints Church mission in New York City. Havili was ultimately arrested and served seven months of a 1-year sentence for felony arson before being released in 2001.
Armed with letters of support as well as the endorsement of then Utah coach Ron McBride, Havili sought to walk on to the Utes football team. Hill blocked the move, suggesting instead that Havili go to a junior college. “While I recognize that Sione is working hard to turn his life around, I have not wavered from my original decision,” Hill said in a 2002 statement. “I believe that it would be in Sione’s best interests to pursue his athletic career at a junior college this year. As an academic nonqualifier out of high school, his graduation from a junior college would make him academically eligible to potentially play for any NCAA school.”
Havili played a year at El Camino College in California, then transferred to Texas Tech. In Lubbock, he played two years, making the Academic All-Big 12 team last season. More recently, Havili transferred to Weber State, where he will play running back for former Utah coach Ron McBride this season.
Much of Havili’s suit figures to center on the “arbitrary and capricious” nature of the decision.
“With a decision like this one, there should have been a clear procedure laid out, and the following [by Hill] of that clear procedure, so I could have due process,” Havili told the SLC Tribune. “When Hill made his decision, I wanted to appeal to someone, but when I talked to a university vice president, who handles student affairs, she said there was nothing she could do and referred me back to Hill.
“We found out that the school’s student-athlete code of conduct – and the chance for an appeal – didn’t apply to me because I wasn’t a student at Utah when the crime occurred. I was still in high school.”