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Friend: Betting pool was 'social event'

2/8/2005

KENT, Wash. -- A friend of Rick Neuheisel testified Tuesday
that the Washington football coach was on his betting team, which
correctly picked three Final Four teams in 2002 and again in 2003
in auction-style NCAA basketball pools.
Seattle real estate developer Tim O'Keefe, on the witness stand
in Neuheisel's trial against the university and NCAA, said that
kind of success was unprecedented in the pool, which he said went
back to 1983.
"Do you attribute that to your sharp knowledge of basketball?"
asked Neuheisel's lawyer, Cyrus Vance Jr.
"I would say luck," O'Keefe said.
Neuheisel is suing the university and NCAA in King County
Superior Court, claiming he was unfairly fired in June 2003. That
month, he told NCAA investigators he didn't bet on NCAA basketball
but then recanted.
The NCAA prohibits gambling on college sports by coaches,
athletes and athletic department staffers at member schools.
O'Keefe testified he didn't believe Neuheisel was breaking any laws
or rules.
"We had seen an article where this type of auction is legal in
the state of Washington because all the money is paid out," he
said.
O'Keefe agreed it was "highly unusual" that the same four-man
team could select three of the Final Four participants in each of
two consecutive years, but he rejected the notion that Neuheisel
had inside knowledge.
"No more than anyone else," O'Keefe told Vance.
Their team also successfully bid for the eventual NCAA champion
in each of those years, picking Maryland in 2002 and Syracuse in
2003.
About 40 people usually attended the auctions, O'Keefe said,
including former Seattle SuperSonics star Jack Sikma, now an
assistant with the NBA team. Participants munched on pizza, drank
beer or soda and laughed a lot.
"It's just a great time," O'Keefe said.
University lawyer Lou Peterson tried to give jurors several
reasons to question O'Keefe's credibility.
O'Keefe testified he began attending the event as early as 1983.
But he admitted under questioning by Peterson that he had told
Pac-10 investigator Ron Barker his first appearance was in 2001.
Peterson also focused on a detail from O'Keefe: that his team
bid on Miami's basketball team in 2003. O'Keefe said other
participants teased Neuheisel because Washington's football team
had lost 62-7 to Miami in 2001.
"I remember someone saying, 'Rick, this is your opportunity to
own Miami.' It was a big joke," O'Keefe recalled.
Peterson pointed out that the final score of Miami's win over
Washington was actually 65-7. He also noted that Miami's basketball
team reached the NCAA tournament in 2002, not 2003 as O'Keefe
maintained.
O'Keefe shrugged off the amount of money he and Neuheisel paid
into the pool, characterizing the auction as "a social event"
despite a $65,000 pot in 2003. He said Neuheisel didn't bring a
checkbook one year, so he covered the coach's entry fee.
Neuheisel paid O'Keefe $2,790, and jurors were shown a copy of
the canceled check. They also saw copies of two checks from
Neuheisel's 2003 winnings, written for $3,920 and $2,550.
O'Keefe indicated he and Neuheisel each had net winnings of
$4,799 in 2002 and $7,324 in 2003.
Over two seasons, their team had gross winnings of $18,523, but
bids were subtracted from winnings -- a net of $12,123. But the
money wasn't as important to O'Keefe as seeing old friends and
having fun.
"I know we're fortunate and lucky to win this money," O'Keefe
testified. "I've been fortunate. I don't pay attention to this
type of money."
Earlier, Assistant Attorney General Karin Nyrop testified that
Neuheisel's gambling was played up by university officials at NCAA
and Pac-10 hearings because the school wanted to address potential
NCAA rules violations.
Nyrop said the university included concerns about Neuheisel's
dishonesty while presenting its case at a December 2003 hearing
with the Pac-10 and during a June 2004 appearance before the NCAA's
infractions committee.
On Monday, Nyrop confirmed to Neuheisel's lawyers that the
school cited his gambling in closed-door Pac-10 and NCAA hearings
while maintaining publicly that dishonesty was the main reason the
coach was fired.
Peterson asked if the focus of the Pac-10 hearing was
Neuheisel's contract.
"No, that hearing was not to determine his employment contract.
That hearing was to determine the extent of NCAA rules
violations," she explained.
Nyrop also testified she had concerns about the truthfulness of
an affidavit by football secretary Liz Zelinski. The document
stated Neuheisel had read a March 13, 2003, e-mail by former UW
compliance director Dana Richardson.
The e-mail, which approved gambling in college basketball pools
in contradiction to NCAA rules, is a key piece of evidence.
Neuheisel says he relied on it before taking part in the auctions.
"I had concerns about it because Mr. Neuheisel had not said
previous to the declaration by Ms. Zelinski that he had relied on
it," Nyrop said.