NCAA says the big lesson in Neuheisel case: Tell the truth

Updated: March 12, 2005, 4:34 PM ET
Associated Press

SEATTLE -- In the wake of Rick Neuheisel's $4.5 million settlement from the NCAA and University of Washington, NCAA officials promised to study their investigative procedures to ensure the process is fair.

A larger lesson from the case, an NCAA official insisted, is that coaches should understand NCAA rules and be aware they are expected to cooperate fully with NCAA investigators.

"It is the only way the process works," said Wallace Renfro, senior adviser to NCAA president Myles Brand.

But will disclosures in Neuheisel's case force changes in the way the NCAA conducts business? Renfro wouldn't address specifics, echoing NCAA president Myles Brand's broad promise that the investigative process will be reviewed.

"That's something we do on an ongoing basis," Renfro said.

The case was a major public-relations black eye for the NCAA, which gave Neuheisel a $2.5 million cash payment in the settlement.

Neuheisel's lawyers maintained the organization violated its own bylaws to target the former Washington football coach about his participation in auction-style NCAA basketball pools.

Not that Neuheisel came away spotless -- he admitted lying when initially questioned by NCAA investigators, but said he was concerned that he was being targeted in an organized gambling case.

"Humans aren't perfect," Neuheisel said.

The NCAA infractions committee ultimately determined he broke rules against gambling but didn't sanction him, citing an e-mail by Washington's former compliance officer that mistakenly authorized such gambling.

Most damaging to the NCAA's court case was an internal e-mail by NCAA enforcement officer David Didion, expressing concern about how NCAA gambling chief Bill Saum was zealously pursuing the investigation.

"Saum wants to make an example of Neuheisel. ... Saum should not be the person to decide a coach's fate to give him clout over institutions," Didion wrote.

Renfro refused to say if Saum, or any other NCAA employee, would be disciplined in the Neuheisel case, citing personnel issues.

However, Brand said in a two-page statement last week he had "complete confidence that the NCAA's enforcement staff acted properly and in compliance with NCAA bylaws" in Neuheisel's case.

Still, many who work in college sports followed the trial closely, and testimony about the NCAA's approach clearly had an impact beyond the Seattle area.

"It does, in fact, address the credibility of policies and procedures that all schools within the NCAA framework are working under," National Athletic Directors Association director Dutch Baughman told the Seattle Post-Intelligencer.

"The circumstances in the case along the way are, in particular, what's troubling to me," he added.

The NCAA made a huge legal gaffe, too.

The organization's position was crippled after NCAA attorney John Aslin disclosed after five weeks of testimony that NCAA administrators had failed to provide updated rule books to Neuheisel's legal team during the trial's discovery phase.

That blunder prompted King County Superior Court Judge Michael Spearman to consider the possibility of a mistrial, a catalyst for the settlement. The trial ended just as jurors were to hear closing statements.

Neuheisel, for his part, hopes his 21-month ordeal will lead to reforms, protecting others who might be in his situation. He said some people have been "strewn along the side of the road" by NCAA investigators.

"They didn't have the wherewithal to do what I did," Neuheisel said. "They had just as much guts, if not more. They just didn't have enough money, frankly. These sorts of propositions are expensive."

Neuheisel begins a new job Monday as quarterbacks coach for the NFL's Baltimore Ravens. He hopes to leave open the possibility of coaching in college again, so he emphasized that he didn't intend to disparage the NCAA.

"I'm not taking advantage of this platform to rub anybody's nose in anything or call anybody a bad person," he said. "I just want to move on. Hopefully, we all learn from this."

However, he offered some constructive criticism for the NCAA.

He explained his side of the story from his meeting with the American Football Coaches Association ethics committee, which censured him for showing a lack of remorse in NCAA recruiting violations when he coached at Colorado.

Neuheisel said he complained to the AFCA panel that the NCAA infractions committee consists of college sports administrators, and he suggested it would benefit by having a coach or former coach as a member.

"If I placed myself there, I believe I could give valuable insight into what happened -- why the coach did or didn't do something," he said.

Renfro said former coaches have served on the infractions committee in the past. The protocol calls for members to be nominated by conference offices, and nothing precludes a coach or former coach from serving.

"I think that criticism is kind of unfair," Renfro said.

Enough of the bickering. It's time to move ahead, Neuheisel said, and he insisted he bears no resentment toward the NCAA.

"It has a wonderful mission," he said. "I just think they've detached themselves so far from what happens on campus. I'm hopeful we can get it back together and do what's right for young people. That's the ultimate mission."

Copyright 2005 by The Associated Press

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