National Collegiate Athletic Association v. Tarkanian

Decision Date12 December 1988
Docket NumberNo. 87-1061,87-1061
PartiesNATIONAL COLLEGIATE ATHLETIC ASSOCIATION, Petitioner v. Jerry TARKANIAN
CourtU.S. Supreme Court
Syllabus

Petitioner National Collegiate Athletic Association (NCAA), an unincorporated association consisting of approximately 960 public and private universities and colleges, adopts rules governing member institutions' recruiting, admissions, academic eligibility, and financial aid standards for student athletes. The NCAA's Committee on Infractions conducts investigations, makes factual determinations, and is expressly authorized to impose penalties upon members that have violated the rules, but is not authorized to sanction a member institution's employees directly. After a lengthy investigation of allegedly improper recruiting practices by the University of Nevada, Las Vegas (UNLV), a state university, the Committee found 38 violations, including 10 by respondent Tarkanian, UNLV's basketball coach. The Committee imposed a number of sanctions upon UNLV, and requested it to show cause why additional penalties should not be imposed if it failed to suspend Tarkanian from its athletic program during a probation period. Facing demotion and a drastic cut in pay, Tarkanian brought suit in Nevada state court, alleging that he had been deprived of his Fourteenth Amendment due process rights in violation of 42 U.S.C. § 1983. Ultimately, Tarkanian obtained injunctive relief and an award of attorney's fees against both UNLV and the NCAA. Concluding that the NCAA's conduct constituted state action for jurisdictional and constitutional purposes, the Nevada Supreme Court affirmed in relevant part.

Held: The NCAA's participation in the events that led to Tarkanian's suspension did not constitute "state action" prohibited by the Fourteenth Amendment and was not performed "under color of" state law within the meaning of § 1983. The NCAA cannot be deemed to be a state actor on the theory that it misused power it possessed by virtue of state law, since UNLV's decision to suspend Tarkanian, while in compliance with the NCAA's rules and recommendations, did not turn the NCAA's conduct into action under color of Nevada law. Although it must be assumed that UNLV, as an NCAA member and a participant in the promulgation of the Association's rules, had some minor impact on the NCAA's policy determinations, the source of the rules adopted by the NCAA is not Nevada but the collective membership, the vast majority of which was located in other States. Moreover, UNLV's decision to adopt the NCAA's rules did not transform them into state rules and the NCAA into a state actor, since UNLV retained plenary power to withdraw from the NCAA and to establish its own standards. The NCAA's investigation, enforcement proceedings, and consequent recommendations did not constitute state action on the theory that they resulted from a delegation of power by UNLV, because: UNLV delegated no power to the NCAA to take specific action against any University employee; UNLV and the NCAA acted as adversaries throughout the proceedings; the NCAA enjoyed no governmental powers to facilitate its investigation; and the NCAA did not indeed, could not—directly discipline Tarkanian, but could only threaten additional sanctions against UNLV if the University chose not to suspend its coach. Furthermore, even assuming the truth of Tarkanian's argument that the power of the NCAA is so great that UNLV had no practical alternative but to comply with the Association's demands, it does not follow that the NCAA was therefore acting under color of state law. Pp. 191-199.

103 Nev. 331, 741 P.2d 1345, reversed and remanded.

STEVENS, J., delivered the opinion of the Court, in which REHNQUIST, C.J., and BLACKMUN, SCALIA, and KENNEDY, JJ., joined. WHITE, J., filed a dissenting opinion, in which BRENNAN, MARSHALL, and O'CONNOR, JJ., joined, post, p. 199.

Rex Lee, Washington, D.C., for petitioner.

Samuel S. Lionel, Las Vegas, Nev., for respondent.

Justice STEVENS delivered the opinion of the Court.

When he became head basketball coach at the University of Nevada, Las Vegas (UNLV), in 1973, Jerry Tarkanian inherited a team with a mediocre 14-14 record. App. 188, 205. Four years later the team won 29 out of 32 games and placed third in the championship tournament sponsored by the National Collegiate Athletic Association (NCAA), to which UNLV belongs. Id., at 188.

Yet in September 1977 UNLV informed Tarkanian that it was going to suspend him. No dissatisfaction with Tarkan- ian, once described as "the 'winningest' active basketball coach," id., at 19, motivated his suspension. Rather, the impetus was a report by the NCAA detailing 38 violations of NCAA rules by UNLV personnel, including 10 involving Tarkanian. The NCAA had placed the university's basketball team on probation for two years and ordered UNLV to show cause why the NCAA should not impose further penalties unless UNLV severed all ties during the probation between its intercollegiate athletic program and Tarkanian.

Facing demotion and a drastic cut in pay,1 Tarkanian brought suit in Nevada state court, alleging that he had been deprived of his Fourteenth Amendment due process rights in violation of 42 U.S.C. § 1983.2 Ultimately Tarkanian obtained injunctive relief and an award of attorney's fees against both UNLV and the NCAA.3 103 Nev. 331, 741 P.2d 1345 (1987) (per curiam). NCAA's liability may be upheld only if its participation in the events that led to Tarkanian's suspension constituted "state action" prohibited by the Fourteenth Amendment and was performed "under color of" state law within the meaning of § 1983.4 We granted certiorari to review the Nevada Supreme Court's holding that the NCAA engaged in state action when it conducted its investigation and recommended that Tarkanian be disciplined. 484 U.S. 1058, 108 S.Ct. 1011, 98 L.Ed.2d 977 (1988). We now reverse.5

I

In order to understand the four separate proceedings that gave rise to the question we must decide, it is useful to begin with a description of the relationship among the three parties Tarkanian, UNLV, and the NCAA.

Tarkanian initially was employed on a year-to-year basis but became a tenured professor in 1977. He receives an annual salary with valuable fringe benefits, and his status as a highly successful coach enables him to earn substantial additional income from sports-related activities such as broadcasting and the sponsorship of products.

UNLV is a branch of the University of Nevada, a state-funded institution. The university is organized and operated pursuant to provisions of Nevada's State Constitution, statutes, and regulations. In performing their official functions, the executives of UNLV unquestionably act under color of state law.

The NCAA is an unincorporated association of approximately 960 members, including virtually all public and private universities and 4-year colleges conducting major athletic programs in the United States. Basic policies of the NCAA are determined by the members at annual conventions. Between conventions, the Association is governed by its Council, which appoints various committees to implement specific programs.

One of the NCAA's fundamental policies "is to maintain intercollegiate athletics as an integral part of the educational program and the athlete as an integral part of the student body, and by so doing, retain a clear line of demarcation between college athletics and professional sports." App. 80. It has therefore adopted rules, which it calls "legislation," ibid., governing the conduct of the intercollegiate athletic programs of its members. This NCAA legislation applies to a variety of issues, such as academic standards for eligibility, admissions, financial aid, and the recruiting of student athletes. By joining the NCAA, each member agrees to abide by and to enforce such rules.

The NCAA's bylaws provide that its enforcement program shall be administered by a Committee on Infractions. The Committee supervises an investigative staff, makes factual determinations concerning alleged rule violations, and is expressly authorized to "impose appropriate penalties on a member found to be in violation, or recommend to the Council suspension or termination of membership." 6 In particu- lar, the Committee may order a member institution to show cause why that member should not suffer further penalties unless it imposes a prescribed discipline on an employee; it is not authorized, however, to sanction a member institution's employees directly.7 The bylaws also provide that representatives of member institutions "are expected to cooperate fully" with the administration of the enforcement program. Id., at 97. The bylaws do not purport to confer any subpoena power on the Committee or its investigators. They state:

"The enforcement procedures are an essential part of the intercollegiate athletic program of each member institu- tion and require full and complete disclosure by all institutional representatives of any relevant information requested by the NCAA investigative staff, Committee on Infractions or Council during the course of an inquiry." Ibid.

During its investigation of UNLV, the Committee on Infractions included three law professors, a mathematics professor, and the dean of a graduate school. Four of them were on the faculties of state institutions; one represented a private university.

The NCAA Investigation of UNLV

On November 28, 1972, the Committee on Infractions notified UNLV's president that it was initiating a preliminary inquiry into alleged violations of NCAA requirements by UNLV. As a result of that preliminary inquiry, some three years later the Committee decided that an "Official Inquiry" was warranted and so advised the UNLV president on February 25, 1976. That advice included a series of detailed allegations concerning the recruitment of student athletes during the period between 1971 and 1975. Many...

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