Defendant NCAA's Motion to Dismiss will be granted.
STANDARD OF REVIEW
In deciding a motion to dismiss, all factual allegations and all reasonable inferences therefrom must be accepted as true and viewed in the light most favorable to the plaintiff. Colburn v. Upper Darby Township, 838 F.2d 663, 666 (3d Cir. 1988). A court may dismiss a plaintiff's complaint only if it appears beyond doubt that the plaintiff can prove no set of facts in support of his claims which would entitle him to relief. Conley v. Gibson, 355 U.S. 41, 45, 2 L. Ed. 2d 80, 78 S. Ct. 99 (1957). In ruling on a motion to dismiss for failure to state a claim, the court looks to "whether sufficient facts are pleaded to determine that the complaint is not frivolous, and to provide defendants with adequate notice to frame an answer." Colburn, 838 F.2d at 666. Further, courts construe pro se complaints, such as the ones sub judice, more liberally than complaints drafted by lawyers and grant dismissal of pro se complaints only if it appears beyond doubt that the plaintiff can prove no set of facts in support of his claim that would entitle him to relief. See Haines v. Kerner, 404 U.S. 519, 520-21, 30 L. Ed. 2d 652, 92 S. Ct. 594 (1972).
The Plaintiff has alleged the following in her Complaint which, for purposes of this motion to dismiss I will accept as true. Plaintiff graduated from high school in 1991, became a member of the intercollegiate volleyball team at St. Bonaventure University in the fall of 1991 and played volleyball at St. Bonaventure during the 1991-92 and 1992-93 athletic seasons. As a student-athlete, Plaintiff participated in intercollegiate events in multiple states within the United States. While participating in these intercollegiate events throughout the United States, Plaintiff as a student-athlete received awards, benefits and expenses permitted under Article 16 of the NCAA Manual. Plaintiff did not, at her own election, participate in an intercollegiate sport at St. Bonaventure during the 1993-94 athletic season.
After graduating from St. Bonaventure, Plaintiff entered a Postbaccalaureate Program at Hofstra University, where Defendant NCAA denied eligibility to Plaintiff to participate in intercollegiate athletics during the 1994-95 athletic season. In 1995, Plaintiff entered into a second Postbaccalaureate Program at the University of Pittsburgh and again was denied eligibility by Defendant NCAA to play intercollegiate volleyball. Neither of the Postbaccalaureate programs entered into by Plaintiff were offered at St. Bonaventure, Plaintiff's undergraduate institution.
The basis for Defendant's denial to Plaintiff of eligibility to play intercollegiate sports during the 1994-95 and 1995-96 athletic seasons was its Postbaccalaureate Bylaw. The Postbaccalaureate Bylaw is enumerated as Bylaw 184.108.40.206 in the 1993-94 NCAA Manual and prohibits a student-athlete from participating in intercollegiate athletics at a postgraduate institution other than the one from which his or her undergraduate degree was obtained. Plaintiff otherwise was in good academic standing and in compliance with all other requirements to participate in intercollegiate athletics during the 1994-95 and 1995-96 athletic seasons. Both Hofstra University and the University of Pittsburgh appealed to the NCAA to waive the Postbaccalaureate Bylaw for Plaintiff but Defendant refused to waive the Bylaw with respect to Plaintiff and therefore, Plaintiff was denied athletic eligibility during the 1994-95 and 1995-96 athletic seasons.
Graduates from two-year colleges are eligible to compete at other Division I institutions.
I. Plaintiff's Sherman Act Claim.
At issue with respect to Plaintiff's Sherman Act claim is the Defendant's Postbaccalaureate Bylaw, which is enumerated as Bylaw 220.127.116.11 in the 1993-94 NCAA Manual and which prohibits a student-athlete from participating in intercollegiate athletics at a postgraduate institution other than the one from which his or her undergraduate degree was obtained. Plaintiff has alleged in her Complaint that: (1) Defendant violated § 1 of the Sherman Act in that it engaged in a contract, combination, and conspiracy to place unlawful restraints upon the trade and commerce of intercollegiate athletics between the several states; (2) the creation and enforcement of Bylaws in the NCAA Manual are joint actions by the NCAA and its member institutions, including Hofstra University and the University of Pittsburgh; (3) the Defendant and member institutions contract, combine, and conspire to enforce the Bylaws in the NCAA Manual; (4) intercollegiate athletics are activities in or substantially affect interstate commerce; (5) Defendant denied Plaintiff intercollegiate athletic eligibility during the 1994-95 and 1995-96 athletic seasons; (6) the NCAA's decision to deny Plaintiff athletic eligibility was solely based upon the Postbaccalaureate Bylaw, found at Bylaw 18.104.22.168 of the 1993-94 NCAA Manual; (7) Hofstra University and the University of Pittsburgh both appealed to the Defendant to waive the Postbaccalaureate Bylaw for Plaintiff but the Defendant refused; (8) as a direct result of the NCAA's refusal to waive the Postbaccalaureate Bylaw, Plaintiff was denied athletic eligibility during the 1994-95 and 1995-96 athletic seasons; (9) by an unreasonable restraint of trade, Plaintiff was injured in her business and property by not being permitted to participate in intercollegiate athletics at Hofstra University and the University of Pittsburgh during the 1994-95 and 1955-96 athletic seasons; (10) the Defendant's enforcement of the Postbaccalaureate Bylaw has an adverse anticompetitive effect, impairs and destroys competition and is unreasonable; and (11) enforcement of the Postbaccalaureate Bylaw cannot be justified by the NCAA especially when graduates from two-year colleges are eligible to compete at other Division I institutions. Complaint, PP 9-19.
Defendant first argues that Count I of Plaintiff's Complaint, which alleges that Defendant violated § 1 of the Sherman Act, must be dismissed for failure to state a claim upon which relief can be granted. Specifically, Defendant asserts that said claim must be dismissed because "the alleged unlawful activities are not of a 'commercial' nature and therefore do not fall within the purview of the Sherman Act," or alternatively, if the Sherman Act is applicable to the facts as alleged by Plaintiff, because "the enforcement of the NCAA Bylaws are reasonable, and therefore lawful, as a matter of law." Defendant's Motion to Dismiss, PP 6-7. Thus, the threshold inquiry is whether or not the Sherman Act is even applicable to the instant claim by Plaintiff.
Section 1 of the Sherman Act states in pertinent part: "every contract, combination in the form of trust or otherwise, or conspiracy, in restraint of trade or commerce among the several States, or with foreign nations, is declared to be illegal[.]" 15 U.S.C. § 1. As explained by the United States Supreme Court in Apex Hosiery Co. v. Leader et al., 310 U.S. 469, 60 S. Ct. 982, 84 L. Ed. 1311 (1940):
[The Sherman Act] was enacted in the era of 'trusts' and of 'combinations' of businesses and of capital organized and directed to control of the market by suppression of competition in the marketing of goods and services, the monopolistic tendency of which had become a matter of public concern. The end sought (by these laws) was the prevention of the restraints to the competition in business and commercial transactions which tended to restrict production, raise prices or otherwise control the market to the detriment of purchasers or consumers of goods and services, all of which had come to be regarded as a special form of public injury.
Id. at 492-93. The Court has further noted that "the Court in Apex recognized that the [Sherman] Act is aimed primarily at combinations having commercial objectives and is applied only to a very limited extent to organizations . . . which normally have other objectives." Klor's, Inc. v. Broadway-Hale Stores, Inc., 359 U.S. 207, 213 n. 7, 3 L. Ed. 2d 741, 79 S. Ct. 705 (1959). Plaintiff claims that Defendant violated § 1 of the Sherman Act in that through its Postbaccalaureate Bylaw, it "engaged, combined and conspired to place unlawful restraints upon the trade and commerce of intercollegiate athletics between the several states." Complaint, P 9.
While the question of whether the Sherman Act reaches the actions of the NCAA when, through the Postbaccalaureate Bylaw, it sets eligibility standards for postgraduate student-athletes in intercollegiate athletics, has never been addressed by the federal courts, the courts have examined the applicability of the Sherman Act in relation to other NCAA rules, regulations and plans. Thus, in National Collegiate Athletic Association v. Board of Regents, 468 U.S. 85, 104 S. Ct. 2948, 82 L. Ed. 2d 70 (1984), the United States Supreme Court held that an NCAA plan that restricted the televising of the games of NCAA member institutions violated § 1 of the Sherman Act because it constituted a restraint upon the operation of a free market. To the contrary, in Jones v. National Collegiate Athletic Association, 392 F. Supp. 295 (D. Ma. 1975) and Gaines v. National Collegiate Athletic Association, 746 F. Supp. 738 (M.D. Tn. 1990), district courts held that the Sherman Act does not reach the actions of the NCAA in setting eligibility standards where NCAA eligibility rules barred student-athletes at their member institutions from participating in intercollegiate sports after (1) a student-athlete had played multiple seasons with various "amateur" teams, receiving compensation therefore (Jones) and (2) a student-athlete had entered the National Football League draft (Gaines).
Notably, in so holding, the Jones court explained:
the plaintiff is currently a student, not a businessman in the traditional sense, and certainly not a 'competitor' within the contemplation of the antitrust laws. The 'competition' which the plaintiff seeks to protect does not originate in the marketplace or as a sector of the economy but in the hockey rink as part of the educational program of a major university. And, of equal significance, plaintiff has so far not shown how the action of the N.C.A.A. in setting eligibility guidelines has any nexus to commercial or business activities in which the defendant might engage.