288 F.3d 548 (3rd Cir. 2002), 01-3113, Pryor v. National Collegiate Athletic Ass'n.

Docket Nº:01-3113
Citation:288 F.3d 548
Party Name:Pryor v. National Collegiate Athletic Ass'n.
Case Date:May 06, 2002
Court:United States Courts of Appeals, Court of Appeals for the Third Circuit

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288 F.3d 548 (3rd Cir. 2002)

Kelly N. PRYOR; Warren E. Spivey, Jr., individually and on behalf of all others similarly situated, Appellants,



No. 01-3113.

United States Court of Appeals, Third Circuit

May 6, 2002

Argued April 1, 2002.

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Andre J. Dennis (Argued), Danielle Banks, Stradley Ronon Stevens & Young, LLP, Philadelphia, PA, for Appellants.

David Bruton (Argued), Michael McTigue Jr., Drinker Biddle & Reath, LLP, Philadelphia, PA, for Appellee.

Before: SLOVITER, FUENTES and MICHEL, [*] Circuit Judges.

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MICHEL, Circuit Judge.

In this close and complex appeal, we must decide whether Plaintiffs have stated a claim for purposeful, racial discrimination under Title VI of the Civil Rights Act of 1964, 42 U.S.C. § 2000d et seq. (1994) and 42 U.S.C.§ 1981 (1994), by alleging (among other things) that the National Collegiate Athletic Association adopted certain educational standards because of their adverse impact on black student athletes seeking college scholarships. We hold that they have sufficiently alleged a claim for relief.

As the complaint indicates, the NCAA purportedly tried to improve graduation rates among black student athletes by adopting Proposition 16, a facially neutral rule that establishes scholarship and athletic eligibility criteria for incoming student athletes. As a result of these criteria, Plaintiffs allege, Proposition 16 has caused increased numbers of black student athletes to lose eligibility for receiving athletic scholarships and for participating in intercollegiate athletics during their freshmen year. Plaintiffs further allege that defendant knew of these effects and intended them. And thus, Plaintiffs suggest that the NCAA actually adopted Proposition 16 to "screen out" more black student athletes from ever receiving athletic scholarships in the first place, with the asserted goal of increased graduation rates serving as a mere "pretext."

Because the complaint sufficiently avers that Proposition 16 has adversely impacted the number of black student athletes who qualify for athletic scholarships, and because it alleges the NCAA adopted this otherwise facially neutral policy "because of" this adverse, racial impact, we cannot agree that the Plaintiffs--African-American student athletes who failed to meet the eligibility criteria established by Proposition 16--have failed to state a claim for relief under the liberal notice-pleading requirements of Fed.R.Civ.P. 8(a).

On the other hand, we affirm the district court's holding that Plaintiff Kelly Pryor lacks standing to prosecute her discrimination claims under the Americans with Disabilities Act, 42 U.S.C. § 12101 et seq. and the Rehabilitation Act of 1973, 29 U.S.C. § 701 et seq. As the district court reasoned, Pryor may still recover the year of athletic eligibility that she lost as a freshman, depending on whether she completes 75% of her degree requirements by the time she finishes her fourth year in college. But her fourth year will not end until sometime in the future. Accordingly, because she has already irrevocably lost eligibility for her freshman year and because the NCAA may still restore that lost year of eligibility in any event, her claims for disability discrimination fail to satisfy the Constitution's Article III "case or controversy" requirements.


This appeal represents the latest challenge to Proposition 16, a policy that the Division I schools of the NCAA voluntarily adopted in 1992 and fully implemented by 1996-97. To provide the proper context, we describe the role of the NCAA and Proposition 16 as well as two earlier, related appeals. Next, we describe the allegations of the complaint in this case and why the district court granted the NCAA's motion to dismiss. Following a discussion about why we, too, must review this case under the motion-to-dismiss standard (as opposed to the summary judgment standard), we address (1) the absence of standing for Pryor's ADA and Rehabilitation Act claims; (2) why Plaintiffs have sufficiently alleged facts showing a right to relief for purposeful discrimination; (3)

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why even a "benign" or "laudable" goal of improving graduation rates for black athletes via the adoption of Proposition 16 still would not necessarily immunize the NCAA from liability as a matter of law; (4) why Plaintiffs' alternative theory about the NCAA's "deliberate indifference" to the impact its policy would have on a particular minority group fails to state a claim for purposeful discrimination under Title VI and § 1981; and (5) why Plaintiffs' agreement to satisfy Proposition 16's academic requirements does not defeat their § 1981 claim.


Defendant NCAA is a voluntary association of more than a thousand members, mostly consisting of public and private four-year universities that have varsity intercollegiate athletic programs. The NCAA member universities divide themselves by divisions: Division I, Division II and Division III. Each division ordinarily adopts its own bylaws. These bylaws include rules for defining freshmen eligibility for intercollegiate athletic competition. For example, in 1986, the Division I members adopted Proposition 48, which required incoming high school athletes to have a minimum grade point average of 2.0 and a minimum 700 score on the Scholastic Aptitude Test in order to practice, play and receive an athletic scholarship. As this court has previously stated, the Division I members implemented Proposition 48 to address the perception that its member schools were exploiting athletes "for their talents without concern for whether they graduated." Cureton v. Nat'l Collegiate Athletic Assoc., 198 F.3d 107, 110 (3d Cir. 1999). Following the implementation of Proposition 48, graduation rates among athletes, especially among black athletes, increased.


In 1992, the Division I schools voluntarily adopted the NCAA's Proposition 16, the provision at issue in this case. Proposition 16 modifies Proposition 48 by increasing the number of core high school courses in which a student athlete must have a minimum GPA, and it determines athletic eligibility based on a formula that combines a student-athlete's GPA and standardized test score. Proposition 16 essentially increases the minimum scores that a high school student athlete must attain to qualify for athletic scholarship aid and eligibility for practicing and competing as a college freshman. For example, if a student athlete had a 2.0 GPA in the core high school courses, he or she must score a 1010 on the SAT. The district court found in a similar case that Proposition 16 puts a greater emphasis on standardized test scores than did its predecessor (Proposition 48).

Cureton I

In 1997, counsel for Plaintiffs in this case sued the NCAA on behalf of different minority student athletes who claimed that Proposition 16 violated the regulations to Title VI of the 1964 Civil Rights Act. Cureton v. Nat'l Collegiate Athletic Assoc., 198 F.3d at 111 ("Cureton I"). Specifically, the Cureton plaintiffs alleged a Title VI violation based on the theory that Proposition 16 creates a disparate impact on racial minorities. Id. Following discovery, the district court concluded that Proposition 16's disparate impact on African-American athletes violated the regulations to Title VI; and so, the court permanently enjoined the continued enforcement of Proposition 16. In so doing, the court accepted the NCAA's proffered goal of implementing Proposition 16 as a way to raise all student-athletes' graduation rates, but it rejected Proposition 16 as a legitimate

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means for accomplishing that goal. Further, the court held that although Proposition 16 may benefit black athletes by improving their overall graduation rate, it still adversely impacted minority athletes at the "front end" of the process, i.e., the eligibility of freshmen minority athletes.

This court reversed and remanded with instructions for the entry of judgment for the NCAA. In the court's analysis, the regulations applied only to the specific programs or activities for which an entity uses federal funds, not to the entity at large. See Cureton I, 198 F.3d at 114. As a result, the court reasoned, even assuming the NCAA received federal funds, the Title VI regulations did not apply to the NCAA because the NCAA did not exercise "controlling authority" over its member institutions' "ultimate decision" about a student-athlete's eligibility to participate in collegiate athletics. See id. at 116-17 (citing and discussing NCAA v. Tarkanian, 488 U.S. 179, 197-99, 109 S.Ct. 454, 102 L.Ed.2d 469 (1988)).

Roughly one year after this decision, the Supreme Court held that Title VI creates no claim for disparate impact, contrary to the theory alleged by the plaintiffs in Cureton I: "Title VI itself directly reach[es] only instances of intentional discrimination." Alexander v. Sandoval, 532 U.S. 275, 281, 121 S.Ct. 1511, 149 L.Ed.2d 517 (2001).

Cureton II

On remand to the district court, the Cureton plaintiffs moved to either amend their complaint or to have the judgment altered so as to add a claim of intentional discrimination based on the NCAA's "adoption and/or enforcement of Proposition 16." Citing undue prejudice, delay and futility (i.e., some of the factors used to assess a motion to amend a complaint or judgment), the district court denied the motion. This court affirmed on the grounds of undue prejudice and delay only. Cureton v. Nat'l Collegiate Athletic Assoc., 252 F.3d 267, 274-76 (3d Cir. 2001) ("Cureton II"). Requiring the NCAA to address this intentional discrimination claim would...

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