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Decision No. 14,548

Appeal of THE LASALLE INSTITUTE OF TROY, NEW YORK from action of Section II of the New York State Public High School Athletic Association, Inc., regarding reclassification of athletic programs.

Decision No. 14,548

(March 23, 2001)

Pattison, Sampson, Ginsberg & Griffin, P.C., attorneys for petitioner, Antonio Milillo, Esq., of counsel

Higgins, Roberts, Beyerl & Coan P.C., attorneys for respondent, Michael E. Basile, Esq., of counsel

MILLS, Commissioner.--Petitioner appeals the reclassification of certain of its athletic programs by Section II of the New York State Public High School Athletic Association, Inc. ("Section II" or "respondent") for the 2000-01 school year. The appeal must be dismissed.

Petitioner is a nonpublic high school operating under the auspices of the Roman Catholic Church. It is a member of the Big Ten Athletic Conference. Petitioner has an all-male student body and at the time this appeal was commenced, had a high school population of 385 students. From 1977-1999, petitioner"s entire athletic program was classified as class "B" under respondent"s classification system, with the exception of petitioner"s football program, which was designated class "A".

Effective August 1, 1998, respondent modified Article II Section 1(f) of its constitution concerning the membership of nonpublic schools. As a result of this change, respondent also established new guidelines for the classification of nonpublic schools. On December 3, 1998, respondent"s classification committee determined that petitioner's entire athletic program, except for football (which was already designated class "A") would be reclassified from class "B" for each sport to class "A" for all sports. Petitioner objected to this reclassification. After appealing this determination to respondent without success, petitioner commenced an appeal before me on November 22, 1999 challenging the reclassification of its sports programs. However, on January 14, 2000, respondent rescinded its reclassification decision, indicating that petitioner"s sports program would remain in class "B" for the 1999-2000 school year (with the exception of the football program which had previously been designated class "A"). By decision dated July 28, 2000, I dismissed petitioner"s appeal as moot.

Some time in the early part of 2000, respondent again reviewed petitioner"s sports programs. On April 12, 2000, respondent"s Classification Committee voted to reclassify eight of petitioner"s thirteen sports programs to Class A. This determination was approved by respondent at its June 12, 2000 meeting. Although respondent"s rules and regulations provide an appeal mechanism to obtain administrative review of a reclassification determination, petitioner apparently failed to avail itself of this process. Instead, petitioner commenced this appeal challenging respondent"s reclassification.

Petitioner argues that respondent"s decision is arbitrary and capricious because respondent failed to comply with its own procedures and policies regarding classification. Respondent raises a number of procedural challenges, contending, among other things, that petitioner failed to exhaust its administrative remedies. On the merits, respondent asserts that its decision is consistent with its constitution and by-laws, and that it carefully considered all relevant factors before recommending the reclassifications.

I decline to address the merits of petitioner"s claims because I find that the appeal must be dismissed on procedural grounds. Rule 5, Section 5 of respondent"s Rules and Regulations establishes an appeal process for a nonpublic school wishing to contest reclassification of its athletic programs. Pursuant to this provision, a nonpublic school "shall submit a written appeal to the League in which it competes within ten (10) school days of the action by the Athletic Council." The regulation further requires respondent"s Classification Committee to conduct a hearing with the school and League representatives prior to the end of the school year in which the appeal is made and submit a recommendation to respondent"s Executive Committee no later than twenty (20) days prior to the first Athletic Council meeting of the succeeding school year. The Executive Committee must present its recommendation and the recommendation of the Classification Committee to the Athletic Council at the first regularly scheduled meeting of the school year for its deliberation and action.

Petitioner was obligated to pursue respondent"s administrative appeal process before commencing this appeal. Respondent alleges that petitioner did not, in fact, pursue this remedy, and petitioner has failed to provide any evidence to the contrary. Accordingly, I find that the petition must be dismissed because petitioner failed to exhaust its administrative remedies (Appeal of Andela, 38 Ed Dept Rep 249, Decision No. 14,026).

In light of this disposition, I need not address the parties" remaining contentions.