APPEAL FROM THE UNITED STATES DISTRICT COURT FOR THE WESTERN DISTRICT OF PENNSYLVANIA (D.C. Civil Action No. 77-183)
Before: ALDISERT and HUNTER, Circuit Judges, and CAHN, District Judge.*fn*
The question for decision is whether a high school basketball player was denied equal protection when his team was foreclosed from playing in post-season athletic league competition because it was placed under suspension for prior violations of league rules. Appellant Floyd Moreland, a high school junior at the commencement of this action, sought injunctive relief under 42 U.S.C. § 1983 against his local and state leagues, and his school district. After a hearing and upon motion by the defendants, the district court dismissed the complaint.
After conducting the hearing on appellant's preliminary injunction request, at which both parties presented evidence, the district court found that Moreland was a member of the Aliquippa, Pennsylvania, high school basketball team which won the 1976-1977 section championship of the Western Pennsylvania Interscholastic Athletic League (WPIAL). All Pennsylvania public high schools are eligible for membership in WPIAL's parent athletic league, the Pennsylvania Interscholastic Athletic Association (PIAA), whose stated purposes are to develop an "interscholastic athletic program which will promote, protect and conserve the health and physical welfare of all participants [;] to formulate and maintain policies that will safeguard the educational values of interscholastic athletics and cultivate high ideals of good sportsmanship [; and] to promote uniformity of standards in all interscholastic athletic competiton." PIAA Constitution, 1976-77 PIAA Handbook, Article II (Defendant's Exhibit 2).
The "PIAA Philosophy" is stated as a preamble to its by-laws:
It is unconscionable that a school or any of its professional employees would subvert the high purposes of interscholastic athletics by condoning any violation of the rules which is inimical to the intent of the By-laws. To involve boys in any procedure or practice which "gets around the rules" is unworthy of a professional person associated with athletics.
1976-77 PIAA Handbook 7. PIAA by-laws relating to attendance provide that one who has been absent for 20 or more school days in a semester shall not be eligible to participate in any athletic contest until he has been in attendance for a total of 60 school days following his twentieth day of absence, Art. III, Sec. 2; that 15 days or more enrollment in a semester shall constitute one semester of enrollment, Art. III, Sec. 3; that a school may be suspended for using an ineligible player, Art. XII, Sec. 2B(2); and that a school may be publicly censured, Art. XII, Sec. 6, or placed on probation, Art. XII, Sec. 7, for violation of these rules.
Evidence presented at the hearing disclosed that in October 1976, the PIAA sanctioned Aliquippa High School pursuant to these by-laws for using players who were ineligible because of absenteeism on its football and basketball teams during the 1973 and 1975 seasons. The Aliquippa School Board passed a resolution accepting the punishment meted out by the PIAA: all games which were played during the years the violations occurred were forfeited to the opponents; the school board, the high school principal, and the football and basketball coaches who were in office during the 1973-75 seasons were officially censured; and Aliquippa's football and basketball teams were declared ineligible for any post-season competition, including sectional playoff, district and PIAA championship contests, for a period of two years, at least until the end of the 1977-78 school year. (Defendant's Exhibit 1).
The district court found that although under ordinary circumstances Moreland's team would have been eligible for post-season play, the two-year PIAA suspension prevented it from doing so in the 1976-1977 season.*fn1 It further found that no members of the 1976-1977 basketball team were involved in the violations; that Floyd Moreland "is an above average player to whom post season tournament play is an important factor in receiving publicity and recruiting attention frequently leading to college scholarships"; and that post-season tournament play attracts college scouts and coaches.
Pressing only an equal protection claim on appeal, appellant contends he was treated differently from other members of varsity basketball teams which participate in post-season tournaments in Pennsylvania. He also asserts unequal treatmenet because Aliquippa athletic teams other than football and basketball are eligible for post-season WPIAL tournament play.
At the outset it is important to emphasize that appellant presents no due process claim on appeal. We are specifically informed that "[appellant] does not in any way claim a federally protected 'right' to play basketball or to participate in interscholastic athletics." Appellant's Brief at 7. Although appellant urges that the district court did not properly distinguish between those cases brought pursuant to due process claims and those brought pursuant to equal protection claims, our examination of the district judge's opinion persuades us that the trial court did make the necessary distinction. Perceiving Moreland's contentions as an admixture of claims of denial of due process and equal protection,*fn2 the district judge disposed of the due process contentions by concluding that the asserted claim did "not rise to the level of ...