As the sun rises over Boise, Idaho, on April 16, 2017, more than 100 young men are lacing up their cleats, trudging into warm-ups, deliberating game strategy, and otherwise adhering to the Sunday morning rituals they have developed over their careers as competitive ultimate players. This particular collection of college athletes, representing universities across the western United States, has descended on Boise State University’s campus for the weekend to compete in the first round of the college ultimate postseason. The teams are already several games into the tournament, having completed pool play just the day before. The games they are about to play will determine who advances to the next round of the postseason and whose seasons come to an end.
Conspicuously absent from the scene unfolding on the fields, however, is a nationally ranked team that has won every single one of its games up to this point: Brigham Young University’s CHI (“BYU CHI”). Repeating a story that had unfolded similarly in seasons past, the Brigham Young University (“BYU”) ultimate squad entered the first round of the postseason as a top team, beat all challengers on Saturday, and then summarily packed its bags and went home, forfeiting all of its qualifying games on Sunday and effectively ending its season. The team yet again sacrificed its chances of advancing in the postseason and pursuing a national championship, all in observance of a higher calling.
The team left the tournament early in order to comply with a BYU policy that prohibits its athletes from competing on Sundays. For years, the team has tried to convince USA Ultimate, the sport’s governing organization, to accommodate its members’ religious observance. These fruitless efforts, as well as the effects of BYU’s and USA Ultimate’s respective rigid policies, have for years fomented great controversy in the ultimate community. More important, however, the situation has left in its wake a bevy of unresolved issues between the parties, some with potentially momentous legal ramifications.
This Comment uses the incipient conflict between BYU CHI and USA Ultimate to analyze how anti-discrimination laws apply when religious calendars and college sports schedules collide. This Comment seeks to use the legal and historical development of this area of law to extrapolate the legal implications present in the dispute between BYU CHI and USA Ultimate. This Comment then aims to use the novel set of facts to ascertain and assess the claims that BYU CHI may be able to bring against USA Ultimate. Finally, this Comment suggests a new mode of anti-discrimination analysis that borrows intent- and effect-based aspects of burden-shifting tests to better address effective discrimination when people in a protected class encounter societal systems, structures, or schedules that effectively discriminate while refusing to accommodate.
The analysis proceeds in three parts. Part I describes the legal history of religious discrimination in the context of sports. This part looks at National Collegiate Athletic Association (“NCAA”) and collegiate club sports, as well as BYU’s particularly storied history in this area of law. Part II analyzes BYU CHI’s potential claims under constitutional, federal statutory, and state statutory law. Finally, Part III suggests a new mode of analysis that would provide a more equitable means of handling alleged effective, unlawful discrimination in a societal structure.