Does Anti-Bias Law Apply?
NCAA Wants Supreme Court Shield From Bias Lawsuits
By Richard Carelli
The Associated Press
WASHINGTON, Jan. 20, 1999 The NCAA, accused
of discriminating against female athletes in the way it enforces
eligibility rules, asked the Supreme Court today to shield it
from lawsuits based on a federal law banning sexual bias in educational
programs receiving federal financial aid.
"It is not enough just to trace the money," argued
the organization's lawyer, John G. Roberts Jr.
A focal point of the three-year legal battle
is whether the powerful NCAA can be considered an indirect recipient
of federal aid because of the dues it collects from its 1,200
member schools - virtually all of whom are federally subsidized.
If so, it could be subject to the anti-bias law
known as Title IX of the Education Amendments of 1972.
If Title IX applies to the National Collegiate
Athletic Association, the organization will have to defend itself
against Renee Smith's accusations that she illegally was declared
ineligible years ago for intercollegiate volleyball.
"I want to establish a precedent, so other intercollegiate
athletes don't have to start at zero," Smith said outside the court
Her lawyer, Carter Phillips, asked the justices
to send the case back to a lower court and allow Smith to pursue
her discrimination complaint.
Arguing that the NCAA should be considered an
indirect recipient of federal aid and therefore covered by the
federal law, Phillips said, "You can't stop at the federal funds
recipient" such as a university. "You have to go beyond that."
Roberts argued that the NCAA is not an aid recipient
under the law, and that athletes should take up discrimination
complaints with the individual schools.
Following the Rules?
"How do you pin this on the university?" Justice
Antonin Scalia asked. An individual school, after all, is just following
the NCAA rules, he said.
"It hasn't done anything except deny a waiver
under circumstances that are perfectly reasonable," Scalia said.
The justices are expected to make a decision
by late June.
Smith has some firepower on her side. The Clinton
administration is urging the court to rule for her and keep her
1996 lawsuit alive.
Smith, who lives in Wintersville, Ohio, played
volleyball for St. Bonaventure University in the 1991-92 and 1992-93
seasons. She chose not to participate the following season, and
graduated in less than three years.
Smith later pursued a graduate degree at Hofstra
University and a law degree at the University of Pittsburgh. At
each, her attempts to play two more seasons of volleyball were
thwarted by an NCAA rule that bars graduate students from competing
in intercollegiate athletics at a school other than the one from
which they earned their undergraduate degree.
Smith's lawsuit says the NCAA grants male student-athletes
a disproportionate number of waivers from that eligibility rule.
But the NCAA, noting that many more men apply for such waivers,
says a higher percentage of female applicants are granted them.
A federal judge threw out Smith's lawsuit, but
the 3rd U.S. Circuit Court of Appeals reinstated her Title IX
claim last year. "The NCAA is not merely an incidental beneficiary
of federal funds," the appeals court ruled.
Smith is now a lawyer, licensed to practice in
California and about to take the Ohio bar examination in February.
She works for her father's mining and industrial supply company,
and last fall was an assistant volleyball coach at Weir High School
in Weirton, West Virginia.
The case is NCAA vs. Smith, 98-84.
Copyright 1999 The Associated Press. All rights
reserved. This material may not be published, broadcast, rewritten