The court held that the case was not ready for the SSAC's appeal, and sent it back to Hrko for additional proceedings.
In a concurring opinion, then-Chief Justice Larry Starcher wondered if the SSAC might be better served by instituting an appeals process for reviewing officials' decisions that have long-term consequences, such as suspensions.
"Where an official's ejection of a student from a game will have longer-term consequences beyond simply stopping the student from playing in the ongoing game, I believe that due process may require that a student who alleges serious error in the official's action can have access to some sort of forum or process in which the student can challenge the ruling and/or consequences," Starcher wrote.
In Hedinger's case, reviewing the video might have decided the matter, Starcher noted.
"If the SSAC had a provision that permitted the SSAC to consider such claims, the court system would not be the only place -- as it appears to be the case today -- where a student who claims to have been treated unfairly can seek relief," Starcher concluded.
In another football-related case, the court held in 1989 that the SSAC had unfairly applied its rules against "red-shirting," the practice where a student repeats a grade and sits out of athletics in order to be bigger, stronger and more mature when he or she returns to the playing field.
Chris Hamilton, considered one of the top 100 or so high school football players in the country, failed the ninth grade for academic reasons. When he reached his senior year for Herbert Hoover High School the SSAC ruled him ineligible, citing its anti-red-shirting rules.
Hamilton appealed to the SSAC's Board of Appeals and Board of Review, which both upheld the Commission's ruling. After he was again unsuccessful in Kanawha Circuit Court, he appealed his case to the state Supreme Court, which allowed him to play his senior season while the matter was pending.
"[I]n their zeal to ban [red-shirting], the Commission has cast its net too wide, taking in those, like Chris Hamilton, who have just had a run of bad luck in the classroom," the opinion states.
The SSAC could maintain its ban on red-shirting in a "more reasonable and less restrictive way" by delving deeper into whether the player actually intended to break the rules, the justices concluded.
"If the Commission limits its enforcement to cases of intentional athletic red-shirting, that is sufficient to protect the best interests of the student. Such a policy, although requiring more inquiry than a per se rule, insures that academic progress is not subverted to the ignoble ends of athletic boosters," the opinion states.Reach Andrew Clevenger at acleven...@wvgazette.com or 304-348-1723.