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Wednesday, March 09, 2005

Neuheisel Settles with NCAA for $4.7 Million

On Monday, former University of Washington head coach Rick Neuheisel settled his wrongful termination lawsuit against the university and the NCAA for $4.7 million. Neuheisel said that he is 'vindicated' by the settlement; the NCAA says it paid largely because of a technical violation, not because it was wrong on the merits. So what should we take out of this whole mess?

The first is that the NCAA got a dose of its own medicine. Admittedly, the NCAA does not have an easy task in managing intercollegiate sports for the entire country. But the association has made a number of poor decisions in the past few years, relying on strict readings of its rules, that have harmed the welfare of student athletes. The Jeremy Bloom and Mike Williams cases spring to mind. This has led to a number of calls for reform from state legislatures. Now, the NCAA has paid $2.5 million because two of its employees did not know about and follow a procedural change that went into effect six weeks before their investigation into Neuheisel's activities. If the association itself cannot even keep up with the myriad of technical rules and regulations, how are athletic departments expected to comply?

But, is Neuheisel really "vindicated?" In the end, he did win on a procedural technicality, not because he was proven correct on the merits. Chances are good that he did lie, convinced that he could slide his way out of trouble with a slight of hand and a decent winning percentage. Speculation has already begun that Neuheisel will have another opportunity to be a college head coach, but athletic directors beware. Neuheisel has had only two head coaching gigs -- Colorado and Washington. And he won't be invited back to either (UW Daily, Seattle P-I) . He left Colorado with a mess of violations that tarnished the program after he left. And the once-proud Washington program has been reduced to a team that went 1-10 this past season. In his wake, he has left a trail of distrust, forgotten promises and broken programs. He may get another opportunity, but chances are good it will be the same Neuheisel.

In the end, there seem to be no winners in this mess. The NCAA tripped up; Neuheisel was not really vindicated; and UW came off as incompetent. But the biggest loser against seems to be college sports. Once the bastion of amateur athletic greatness, this mess is indicative of what it has become -- a struggle between the egomaniacal and the greedy, all wanting more power and more money. Forgotten are the student-athletes at Washington, whose dreams of playing for a national contender have been shattered. And at the bottom of the pile sit the fans, who may continue to love college sports, but will now wonder if college sports cares about them at all.


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