The Oklahoma Supreme Court concluded a state athletic association’s actions in a case involving a student-athlete were arbitrary and capricious. The October 1, 2013, decision in Scott v. Okla. Secondary Sch. Activities Ass’n, 2013 OK 84 (Okla. 2013), as well as similar holdings by other courts, are important when member institutions, coaches and student-athletes challenge rulings of the NCAA and state athletic associations.
Brayden Scott, a former student-athlete at Sequoyah School (“Sequoyah”), requested a permanent injunction against the Oklahoma Secondary School Activities Association (“OSSAA”) to block the association from enforcing sanctions against the student-athlete. The OSSAA’s case against Scott began in 2012, when the association received a copy of a newspaper article concerning Sequoyah’s successes attracting the attention of college football recruiters. Based on information contained in the article, the OSSAA believed Sequoyah might have violated its rule prohibiting member schools from paying for student-athletes to attend individual athletic camps. The OSSAA notified the school of its beliefs; the association also requested the school to confirm that it paid for selected student-athletes to attend individual camps. According to the OSSAA, the school did not respond. The OSSAA determined that the student-athlete, high-school and other parties violated OSSAA rules. The student-athlete appealed by challenging the applicable standard of review and alleging the OSSAA’s actions were arbitrary and capricious. The trial court ruled in favor of the OSSAA. However, on appeal, the Supreme Court concluded the trial court applied the incorrect standard of review. Further, the Court held that under any standard the OSSAA’s actions were arbitrary and capricious.
The Court noted its general reluctance in interfering with the affairs of an athletics association:
“Courts are normally reluctant to interfere with the internal affairs of voluntary membership associations, however, in particular situations, where the considerations of policy and justice are sufficiently compelling judicial scrutiny and relief are available. In dealing with an organization in which membership is an economic necessity, the courts must be particularly alert to the need for protecting the public welfare and advancing the interests of justice by reasonably safeguarding the individual’s opportunity to earn a livelihood while not impairing the proper standards and objectives of the organization. The necessity of court action is apparent where the position of a voluntary association is so dominant in its field that membership in a practical sense is not voluntary but economically necessary.”
The Court explained the OSSAA’s actions were arbitrary and capricious for several reasons, including:
- The OSSAA’s retroactive application of portions of its policies was arbitrary and capricious. “Retroactive application of policies that did not exist for the majority of the alleged violations is inherently arbitrary and capricious because it has no basis in reason and is in complete disregard of the facts and circumstances.”
- The OSSAA did not conduct a thorough investigation, especially alleging or attempting to prove in any way the school violated the specific provisions of the rule in question.
- The OSSAA failed to provide Scott was sufficient notice of the allegations and proposed sanctions.