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Innocent on all counts
Did the UW rush to judgment?
By Richard Linde, 26 October 2004

On October 20, 2004, the NCAA released its findings, entitled, “University of Washington Public Infractions report.” In its findings, the NCAA imposed no penalties on Rick Neuheisel for his two high-stakes gambling activities nor did it sanction him for initially lying to NCAA investigators on June 4, 2003.

The NCAA report exonerates Neuheisel because of his reliance on the e-mails that former UW compliance director Dan Richardson wrote permitting participation in March Madness sports pools (with certain limitations), and because the NCAA has a general policy that it will not charge an individual with unethical conduct if he ultimately provide truthful information the same day he provides false information.

However, we have some problems with the NCAA’s handling of this affair, with respect to its two Bylaws 10.3 (gambling) and 10.1 (lying to investigators). 

-- NCAA Bylaw 10.3 is vague. In its report (October 20, 2004), the committee on infractions, states: “The committee on infractions believes that the NCAA bylaw that prohibits sports pools wagering is clear and that the former head coach in this case broke the rule.”

Stop the presses. The NCAA bylaw (10.3) that “prohibits sports pools wagering” is not clear about sports pools.

Why? Bylaw 10.3 is unclear for the simple fact that so many different people have their own interpretation of the bylaw, which, in fact, clearly applies to organized gambling, not to sports pools. Former UW compliance director Dana Richardson had her own interpretation of the bylaw; a lawyer appearing on Fox Northwest had his own interpretation, stating that Neuheisel did not violate Bylaw 10.3; a noted expert on constitutional law has concluded that Bylaw 10.3 is unconstitutionally vague as applied to Neuheisel’s conduct. Even people within the NCAA have their own interpretations of the Bylaw. In 1999, the NCAA considered an amendment to Bylaw 10.3 that would have specifically applied to sports pools.

Curiously, this vagueness in the Bylaw was never proffered by the media as an argument in Neuheisel’s defense. Since members of the media were well aware that there were conflicting interpretations of Bylaw 10.3, excluding such an argument in the columns or articles that dealt with the gambling issue is arguably a case of media bias against Neuheisel, Richardson and Washington.

-- NCAA Bylaw 10.3 (Conflict among members). In its report, the committee on infractions, states: “The committee is unable to find, however, that the former head coach (Neuheisel) did not rely on these emails (the Richardson memos that okayed offsite participation in pools as long as the person was not running the pool) when he knowingly participated in the activities. The committee believes that reliance on these emails would substantially mitigate the nature of the violation…the committee finds under these unique and unusual circumstances that the violation was, as to the former head coach, not a violation of NCAA ethical conduct legislation.”

Stop the presses.

In June 2003, Bill Saum, NCAA director of agent, gambling and amateurism activities, said of the Richardson memos: "The mitigation is minimal."

One NCAA officials says the mitigation is minimal; now others, the committee, say the e-mails substantially mitigate the nature of the violation. Make up your minds, fellows.

-- Did the university rush to judgment when it canned Neuheisel?

The university fired Neuheisel for “serious acts of misconduct” under section 8c of his contract, saying, “Whether or not the participation in the pools is ultimately determined  by the NCAA to be a violation of the letter of its rules, your admitted gambling shows poor judgment, particularly in the context of your history of violations of NCAA rules both at this institution and at the University of Colorado, which have led to the imposition of penalties on you and on both schools, and your demonstrated lack of remorse for such violations, which has led to your censure by the American Football Coaches Association. Your initial false denials of such participation likewise must be seen in the context of your untruthfulness earlier this year with regard to interviews with the San Francisco 49ers, at which time you were clearly told that further acts of dishonesty would not be tolerated.”

Stop the presses.

Hence, Neuheisel was fired for exercising poor judgment, for lying about a job interview with the 49ers, for initially lying to NCAA investigators and for a lack of remorse for his violations at Colorado and the UW. Note that his misleading answers to the NCAA investigator violated Article 10.1d of the NCAA Bylaws, and were grounds for termination under Section 8d of his contract. Further, if it was determined that he violated NCAA gambling rules, that would have been further grounds for termination.

However, according to the NCAA enforcement staff, it has a general policy in which individuals will not be charged with unethical conduct if they ultimately provide truthful information the same day they provide false information. Neuheisel provided truthful information the same day (June 4, 2003) he was untruthful. It should be noted that the NCAA violated two of its own Bylaws when its representatives “blindsided” Neuheisel.

I’ve never heard of anyone being fired for a lack of poor judgment or for a lack of remorse.

Most of Neuheisel’s violations at Colorado were of the “bumping” variety, which every college coach is guilty of at some time or another in his career, some more than others. Most of his bumping violations violated the “spirit” of the rule, rather than the letter of the Bylaw. His “quiet” day violations at the UW, when he first came on board, were minor in nature, and, once again, a number of college coaches have violated the “quiet” day rule in the past.

That leaves the charge that he lied about a job interview. According to media sources, his contract did not forbid him from interviewing with a Pro team nor did it require him to inform his superiors about such contact. He was obligated to inform his superiors about contact with a college team, however. He did lie about his interview with the 49ers, saying, in defense of himself, that he had committed to a confidentially agreement with 49ers management.

Ironically, the media's dogged, reprehensible behavior in the 49ers affair might have proven exculpatory as far as former AD Barbara Hedges and interim president Lee Huntsman were concerned, allowing Rick to keep his job.

Up to the June 4 interview by NCAA investigators, the UW seemed satisfied with Neuheisel’s performance on the job, even with these forthcoming grounds for termination in place, e.g., the 49ers interview and the Colorado violations. His last lie on June 4 apparently tipped the iceberg; yet, the NCAA says that was not a problem with them because of its same day policy. As to his gambling activities, the two Richardson memos provide exculpatory evidence as far as the NCAA was concerned, so Washington’s argument that Neuheisel used poor judgment by entering the pools is weakened by its judge and jury: the NCAA. The UW's case is further weakened by the conflicting interpretations of NCAA Bylaw 10.3.

Neueheisel's pending lawsuit against the NCAA further clouds the issue, and one wonders if the NCAA's decision on Neuheisel would have been different if his lawsuit had not been on the docket.

-- Madness, madness everywhere, without one vista of clarity.

It has always been our position that the Neuheisel imbroglio has been much ado about nothing. It only proves that Seattle is not a reasonable place to be running a big-time college sports program. The whole city needs to be put on a suicide watch; that is, until rational behavior can be restored.

As for the NCAA, it needs to modify its gambling bylaw with the simple phrase, "no sports pools, please."

-- Some solace flares for fans

In a parallel universe, Rick Neueheisel still coaches the Huskies, who are ranked number one in both polls.

-- According to Rick

I think the NCAA has put on a lot of pressure because of some of the statements they made. I think that the day after I was questioned by the NCAA, Myles Brand said I should be fired. There was no way they could know all the facts. The university felt pressure to make a decision. I think it was simple as that.” Rick Neuheisel.

Richard Linde (a.k.a., Malamute) can be reached at malamute@4malamute.com

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