NCAA v. Tarkanian
Annotate this Case
488 U.S. 179 (1988)
U.S. Supreme Court
NCAA v. Tarkanian, 488 U.S. 179 (1988)
National Collegiate Athletic Association v. Tarkanian
Argued October 5, 1988
Decided December 12, 1988
488 U.S. 179
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. 488 U. S. 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. 488 U. S. 199.