Jury awards $5 million in Alabama booster lawsuit

SCOTTSBORO, Ala. -- A jury awarded $5 million Thursday to a
former University of Alabama football booster who claimed the NCAA
defamed him when it imposed penalties on the Crimson Tide in 2002.

The state court jury awarded Ray Keller $3 million in punitive
damages, $1 million for mental anguish, $500,000 for economic loss
and $500,000 for damage to reputation.

Keller, a timber dealer and fan the university severed ties
with because of the probe, argued that the NCAA slandered and
libeled him during the announcement of penalties by referring to
him and others as "rogue boosters," "parasites" and

After the verdict, Keller hugged his lawyers, friends and
family. He said beating the NCAA in court was like "taking on a
giant" and winning.

"I didn't ever feel we were as big as David going with Goliath
going up against them," he said.

The jury of nine women and three men deliberated less than six
hours over two days to reach the verdict. Jurors declined comment

NCAA spokesman Chuck Wynn said the organization will ask the
judge to set aside the verdict.

"If not," he added, "we'll
appeal to the Alabama Supreme Court."

Jurors, who heard three weeks of testimony, had asked for a tape
recorder so they could re-listen to a tape of former NCAA
infractions committee chairman Tom Yeager announcing penalties
against Alabama nearly six years ago.

Keller maintained the sanctioning organization wrongly lumped
him in with other boosters who were accused of making improper
contacts and payments to recruits in the 1990s.

Denying he did anything wrong, Keller sought $33.5 million --
$556,775 for four business deals he claims he lost; $5 million for
mental anguish; $10 million for damage to his good name; and $20
million to punish the NCAA.

The NCAA asked jurors to reject Keller's claims, portraying him
as an Alabama fan who lost all perspective on the game, gave "$100
handshakes" to a recruit and had improper contacts with other Tide

The committee that imposed penalties on Alabama, chaired by
Yeager, didn't have any malice toward Keller and simply acted on
evidence, the NCAA said.

The NCAA didn't use the name of Keller or other boosters in
announcing penalties against Alabama, but their names appeared in
news accounts and the university sent Keller a letter barring him
from its athletics program.

Keller felt vindicated by the jury's decision, a verdict he said
could help show that Alabama was also wronged.

"If this does anything to vindicate them, great. I'm an Alabama
fan now, and I was when this started," he said.

Keller attorney Archie Lamb said Keller was wrongly swept up by
the NCAA when it "set a trap" to get Alabama and acted in a
"blind rage" to target the late Logan Young of Memphis, a former
Alabama booster convicted of paying a high school coach $150,000 to
steer a recruit to Alabama.

Lamb said college athletics needs the NCAA to police recruiting.

"But they need to also abide by their own rules," he said.

A separate lawsuit filed in Tuscaloosa over the investigation
resulted in a $30 million verdict against a former recruiting
analyst who provided information to the NCAA, but that judgment was
overturned on appeal.

The suit by former Alabama assistant coach Ronnie Cottrell also
named the NCAA as a defendant, but a judge dismissed the
organization from that case.