Neuheisel alleges he was wrongfully fired
SEATTLE -- Rick Neuheisel contends he was wrongly fired as Washington's football coach, and his lawsuit blames the NCAA for igniting the whole process.
The former coach sued the university and the NCAA on Thursday, saying the school fired him in an effort to avoid an NCAA investigation.
The lawsuit, filed in King County Superior Court, alleges breach of contract by the university. Four other causes of action in the 12-page document are aimed at the NCAA -- including claims of defamation and conspiracy.
"There are certain high-ranking members of the NCAA who were seeking to harm Mr. Neuheisel despite the fact that he was never involved in a major violation and had among the highest graduation rates," the lawsuit said.
NCAA spokesman Jeff Howard said Friday he couldn't comment on specific allegations in the lawsuit because the organization hadn't received a copy of the complaint.
"The NCAA has done nothing wrong in this case and the association is confident a favorable ruling will be issued on its behalf," Howard said.
"You can't run away from something that's just wrong, in your own mind," Neuheisel told KING-TV in an interview aired Thursday night. "So I chose to take 'em on. It would have been easier to run and look for something new."
The coach, who started work this week as a volunteer assistant at Rainier Beach High School in Seattle, is seeking unspecified monetary damages.
The lawsuit was filed on the same day the university released audio tapes of a June 4 meeting between Neuheisel and NCAA investigators, who questioned him about his involvement in NCAA basketball tournament pools in 2002 and 2003.
Athletic director Barbara Hedges has said Neuheisel was fired for gambling on the tournaments in violation of NCAA rules and then lying to NCAA investigators when initially questioned.
Neuheisel maintains a Washington athletic department memo gave him permission to participate in neighborhood pools with friends.
The lawsuit accuses NCAA president Myles Brand and NCAA gambling director Bill Saum of making improper public comments about the coach through the media, leading to an atmosphere where the school feared it would be punished.
"Such statements were made recklessly and with an incomplete and inaccurate knowledge of the facts," the lawsuit said.
It also claims NCAA officials asked an unidentified Seattle newspaper to delay a story about Neuheisel's involvement in the pool "so that the NCAA could catch Mr. Neuheisel unaware at the June 4, 2003, interview."
In a report Friday, The Seattle Times identified itself as that paper.
Neuheisel has claimed he was blindsided by investigators, and the tapes back up that contention. However, the tapes also support the university's position that Neuheisel initially lied about his involvement.
"I never placed a bet on anything," Neuheisel said early in the tapes.
Later that day, after Neuheisel was given time to speak to an attorney, he acknowledged his involvement in what he considered a friendly neighborhood pool. He said it didn't involve organized, illegal gambling.
"I never bet anything, just participated in an auction," Neuheisel said on the tapes. "I don't know much money was involved because, frankly, I was just enjoying the evening."
Bob Sulkin, Neuheisel's lawyer, said the NCAA targeted his client in "an unfair and flawed investigation."
"What is clear is that Mr. Neuheisel fully disclosed his involvement in the March Madness pools on the first day of the investigation," Sulkin said in a statement accompanying the lawsuit.
The lawsuit also claims the NCAA was publishing an outdated version of gambling rules on its Web site as late as June 7. It says the NCAA failed to use the terms "pool" or "auction" in defining what constitutes gambling.
Copyright 2003 by The Associated Press
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