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 "pariahs."
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 afterward.
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 recruits.
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.
Copyright 2007 by The Associated Press