A little over a year ago, a Texas court of appeals created a loophole in the NCAA’s eligibility rules, at least in Texas, when it found that a student-athlete at the University of Texas at Austin had a liberty and a property interest in competing in the NCAA championships, which trumped the NCAA’s determination that she was ineligible.
This January, the NCAA hopes to close that loophole when the Texas Supreme Court hears a multi-faceted appeal of that decision. This time, the NCAA, which was denied an opportunity to intervene by the lower courts, was granted an opportunity to defend its rules.
Previously, UT was an unwilling defendant, forced to protect the association’s interests or face the wrath of NCAA Bylaw 19.7, which allows the association to punish its members with sanctions and other penalties if they abide by a local court and allow a student-athlete, who has been deemed ineligible by the NCAA, to compete anyway.
Yeo’s property interests, as identified by the court of appeals, centered on her considerable reputation in her native Singapore, which she has represented frequently on the international athletics stage. Had the trial court not provided Yeo with a temporary restraining order allowing her to compete in the NCAA Championships, her reputation would have been harmed, it held
“When a person’s good name, reputation, honor, or integrity is at stake because of what the government is doing to her, due process protections are more likely to apply,” wrote the appeals court in NCAA et al. v. Joscelin Yeo, TX 3rd Ct. App., No. 03-02-00775-CV., July 11, 2003
In an appeal of the order, the NCAA challenged the denial of its right to intervene, while UT appealed the awarding of a permanent injunction. UT also challenges the appeals court’s decision to award attorney fees to Yeo, challenging that decision on sovereign immunity grounds.
In addition, the American Council on Education, National Association of State Universities and Land-Grant Colleges and American Association of Community Colleges filed an amicus brief in support of UT and the NCAA, arguing that the appeals court decision “is out of step with the overwhelming majority of jurisdictions and “opens Texas schools to extensive litigation,” effectively creating a protected interest in extracurricular activities.
The brief continued that the appeals court disregarded settled case law that limits such protections to a small group of exceptional students. “Institutions will be unable to predict which students have protected interests under the court of appeals’ test, leaving them vulnerable to litigation,” according to the ACE.
Since the court of appeals decision, Yeo was named a Rhodes Scholar, only the second student-athlete at the university to receive that honor since World War II.
The NCAA is being represented in the case by Kansas City attorneys W. Wade Porter, Linda J. Salfrank and Jose E. de la Fuente. Yeo is being represented by Austin attorneys Diane M. Henson, Karl Bayer and Robert G. Hargrove.