The Supreme Court of Texas has reversed the decision of a trial court and appeals court, concluding that the NCAA and the University of Texas did not violate the rights of a student-athlete when it determined that she was ineligible and sought to prevent her from competing in various swimming competitions.
Specifically, the court found that Joscelin Yeo did not have a protected “interest” because of her reputation or “existing and future financial opportunities,” which was an argument she successfully made in the lower courts.
“The United States Supreme Court has stated, and we agree, that whether an interest is protected by due process depends not on its weight, but on its nature,” wrote Justice Nathan L Hecht in citing Board of Regents of State Colleges v. Roth, 408 U.S. 564, 570-571, 33 L. Ed. 2d 548, 92 S.Ct. 2701 (1972). One’s “unique reputation and earning potential” are not protected in this legal scenario, according to the state’s highest court.
Yeo, a child prodigy as a swimmer in Singapore, accepted a scholarship Cal-Berkeley in the late 1990s. In the spring of 2000, she informed Berkeley officials that she was transferring. She ultimately decided that summer on UT. She asked Berkeley to grant her an immediate transfer, as was her right under NCAA rules.
While Berkeley was considering Yeo’s request, Yeo was preparing for the Olympic Games in Sydney, which would occur in September of 2000. Realizing that she would fall behind if she tried to attend UT that fall, she decided that she would wait until the spring of 2001 to restart her education.
In the meantime, Berkeley denied Yeo’s request of an immediate transfer. Yeo pursued an appeal process. But according to the petition, Berkeley was less than helpful. In fact, the earliest it would consider an appeal on the denial of the immediate transfer rule was one day before the last meet of the year, or Feb. 23, 2001. Her attorneys maintained that Berkeley violated NCAA Bylaw 18.104.22.168 (d), which requires that if an institution refuses to waive the one-time transfer rule, it must provide a “reasonable” and “prompt” hearing.
Nevertheless, Yeo began focusing on the fall of 2001 for her return to collegiate swimming. Her attorneys maintained in court documents that UT counted the fall of 2000 as part of the NCAA-required year for sitting out, which was a mistake. Thus, Yeo competed in her first UT meet in September of 2001.
According to Yeo’s lawsuit, “someone at Berkeley” advised the Big 12 Conference of UT’s mistake, and the Big 12 informed Texas. Informed of the mistake, a UT official wrote the NCAA and, according to the Yeo petition, admitted that the university made the mistake and asked that Yeo be required to sit out only the remainder of the fall schedule. The NCAA denied the request, ordering that she sit out the next four meets.
Again, Berkeley officials informed the NCAA of another UT transgression, that one of the meets was an intrasquad scrimmage and that another of the designated meets wouldn’t count as well.
Penalties were reinstated and a new timeframe was created that would cause Yeo to miss the NCAA championships.
At this point, Yeo’s attorney got involved, ultimately securing a temporary restraining order that would allow Yeo to compete in the NCAA Championships. As the TRO was being considered, the NCAA then sought to intervene, but was denied by the state court, which deemed it had “no interest.” Yeo competed and helped UT secure a 5th place finish.
After a subsequent hearing on the merits of the TRO several months later, the trial court granted a permanent injunction preventing UT-Austin from retroactively declaring Yeo ineligible. The NCAA appealed its denial as an intervener and UT appealed the awarding of a permanent injunction.
The appeals court affirmed, spawning the latest appeal to the Supreme Court of Texas.
Yeo’s principal argument to the high court was that she was “entitled to notice and a meaningful hearing before NCAA rules were applied to her unique reputation and earning potential.” At the same time, the high court cited Yeo’s concession that a student-athlete “with a lesser reputation or less certain of her earnings potential … would not have the same rights.”
For the reasons identified above in the third paragraph, the high court disagreed. It faulted the appeals court’s logic that “a reputation is constitutionally protected and must be decided case by case,” especially “since it did not suggest a measure for distinguishing one case from another, and neither does Yeo.”
Further, it wrote that “Yeo’s claimed interest in future financial opportunities is too speculative for due process protection. There must be an actual legal entitlement. While student-athletes remain amateurs, their future financial opportunities remain expectations.”
Also relevant was the high court’s warning to the state’s lower courts to be careful about intervening “in the resolution of conflicts which arise in the daily operation of school systems and which do not directly and sharply implicate basic constitutional values.” Epperson v. Arkansas, 393 U.S. 97 104, 21 L.Ed. 2d 228, 89 S. Ct. 266 (1968).
Quoting from Hardy v. University Interscholastic League, 759 F.2d 1233 1235 (5th Cir. 1985), it added “judges are not ‘Super Referees.'” NCAA et al. v. Yeo; S.Ct.Texas; No. 03-0753; 8/26/05
Attorneys of record: (for Respondent) Diane M. Henson of Austin, Texas. (for Amici Curiae) Warren W. Harris, Lisa A. Brown and Erin Glenn Busby of Bracewell & Patterson, L.L.P.