By Phillip Whitten
Honolulu, HI – U.S. First Circuit Court Judge Gail Nakatani denied a petition brought by eleven University of Hawaii swimmers asking for a temporary restraining order enjoining the NCAA from conducting the women's and men's NCAA championship meets. The women's meet begins in Indianapolis today. The men's meet is to be held in Minneapolis next week.
The swimmers petitioned the court because they believed they had been unfairly and capriciously excluded from the NCAA championship meets. After the student-athletes' entries were accepted, the NCAA reversed itself noting that several requirements had not been met. Eric Seitz, lawyer for the students, claimed that the errors "were insignificant and the swimmers should not be penalized since all eleven had met the NCAA qualifying standards more than once."
Judge Nakatani denied the motion, she said, because state law did not reach out to include the NCAA. During the hearing, she repeatedly asked NCAA counsel if a compromise could be reached, but the NCAA was unwilling to do so. The judge asked counsel for the NCAA to produce the complaints brought against the University of Hawaii. Unable to do so, NCAA counsel acknowledged that there were no written complaints at all and that the action against the students had been initiated from within the NCAA swimming committee.
Wally Renfron, an NCAA spokesman and the plaintiffs' lawyer, Eric Seitz, disagreed fundamentally about whether the students' case had received a fair hearing –or, indeed, any hearing by the NCAA. After issuing her ruling, Judge Nakatani asked the plaintiffs' counsel to amend his motion and file a motion for breach of contract. That motion was filed late yesterday, and a two-day hearing began today to determine if, by punishing the students for minor errors made by administrators, the NCAA was justified.
Interviewed late last night, attorney Larry Kawasaki, who is assisting attorney Seitz, acknowledged that the women Rainbow swimmers had not left for Indianapolis and would not compete. He held out hope that the judge would rule that there was a breach of contract by the NCAA, and that the men would be allowed to compete in Minneapolis next week. A ruling is expected later today.