On appeal from the Department of Education, Agency Docket No. 94-4/12.
NOT FOR PUBLICATION WITHOUT THE APPROVAL OF THE APPELLATE DIVISION
Before Judges Axelrad and Haas.
Petitioner, a high school senior, appeals from the Commissioner of Education's (the Commissioner) decision upholding the New Jersey State Interscholastic Athletic Association's (the NJSIAA) denial of his petition for a waiver from the NJSIAA's Eight Semester Rule which disallows him from participating in secondary level football and baseball for a fifth year. Petitioner argues the NJSIAA applied the incorrect standard, and challenges the Commissioner's decision as arbitrary, capricious, and unreasonable, particularly in light of waivers previously granted by the NJSIAA. We are not persuaded by petitioner's arguments and affirm.
On January 25 2012, petitioner's high school principal applied to the NJSIAA for a waiver of the Eight Semester Rule on petitioner's behalf. On February 1, 2012, a nine-person Eligibility Committee unanimously denied the waiver, concluding petitioner had "not met the test of 'truly extraordinary circumstances.'" The school appealed to the NJSIAA's Eligibility Appeals Committee (EAC), which held a hearing on March 7, 2012. The EAC issued a written decision on March 15, 2012, denying the waiver by a 5-0 vote.
The Board of Education (BOE) appealed to the Commissioner. In a written opinion issued on June 25, 2012, the Commissioner upheld the NJSIAA's decision and dismissed the petition. Petitioner filed an appeal to this court on his own behalf. By order of August 16, 2012, we granted petitioner's motion to accelerate the appeal.
The NJSIAA is an independent, voluntary, and non-profit organization comprised of 433 public, non-public, and independent high schools in the state of New Jersey. It coordinates and regulates the athletic programs of its member schools to ensure uniformity in high school athletics across the state. As a member school, petitioner's high school is bound by the NJSIAA's charter, constitution, bylaws, rules, and regulations. N.J.S.A. 18A:11-3.
One of the basic eligibility rules for student athletes is the Eight Semester Rule. High schools in New Jersey have agreed that eligibility to play sports should be restricted to four years -- or in the words of the Rule, "eight consecutive semesters following his/her entrance into the 9th grade." NJSIAA Handbook, Bylaws, Article V, Section 4.J.
The pertinent part of the Rule states:
J. Semester of Eligibility
1. No student shall be eligible for high school athletics after the expiration of eight consecutive semesters following his/her entrance into the 9th grade. A student becomes ineligible for high school athletics when the ...