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Tarkanian, NCAA Settle for $2.5 Million

April 02, 1998|LARRY STEWART | TIMES STAFF WRITER

It's over, finally, and Jerry Tarkanian has been vindicated.

Rather than go to trial in Las Vegas next month, the NCAA has reached a $2.5 million settlement with the beleaguered basketball coach.

The NCAA will also issue a conciliatory statement at a news conference at a downtown Los Angeles hotel this morning.

"I just hope people will now realize that the accusations against me, 25 years worth of them, were unfounded and without evidence," Tarkanian, reached in Pasadena, said Wednesday night.

"I learned you never want to fight an organization that powerful. They control the press. They spend more money on public relations in one month than I make in a lifetime.

"They can wipe you out with a media blitz, and you have no recourse.

"I hope the statement will make it clear no evidence was ever presented and I was never given a hearing to clear my name.

"They can never, ever, make up for all the pain and agony they caused me. All I can say is that for 25 years they beat the hell out of me."

Tarkanian said his battles with the NCAA began when he was coaching at Long Beach State and writing a periodic guest column for the Long Beach Press Telegram.

"I wrote that the NCAA will go after the small schools but never the big schools," he said. "Western Kentucky got put on probation even though there were a lot more violations taking place at Kentucky.

"Warren Brown [then the head of the NCAA] wrote to my athletic director ripping me. He wrote, 'What does Tark think, Long Beach is a big school?' "

From that point on, Tarkanian said, the NCAA hounded him.

Asked for more details about the settlement, Tarkanian said, "You know, I shouldn't really be talking about this. It will all come out at the press conference."

The Associated Press reported that the NCAA, while not admitting liability, will say the organization regrets the dispute.

The NCAA declined comment on the settlement, saying Executive Director Cedric Dempsey would talk about it today.

Sources said the NCAA statement, in addition to expressing regret over the long battle, will also say the agency now has more understanding of Tarkanian's position and that the case has changed the enforcement process for the better.

It will also say the NCAA wants to go forward with a clean slate, thinks Tarkanian is an excellent basketball coach and wants the wounds to heal.

The NCAA fought the Tarkanian suit from its inception, trying unsuccessfully to get it moved out of Las Vegas, where NCAA attorneys said jurors would be biased on Tarkanian's behalf.

Tarkanian's attorney, Terry Giles, told the AP he was preparing to go to trial May 18 when he was approached about a settlement a few weeks ago by the NCAA.

Giles said testimony from former players, officials and lawyers would have shown that, except for one minor infraction, the NCAA had no evidence to back up probations given to basketball programs at Long Beach and Nevada Las Vegas.

"We felt very confident about our case for seven years," Giles said. "I told Jerry and [his wife] Lois that the day we were in the courtroom picking a jury was the day we were beginning to win the case."

Tarkanian, now at Fresno State, sued the NCAA after he was forced to resign from Nevada Las Vegas in 1992. The suit claimed the agency singled him out while he was at Nevada Las Vegas from 1973 to 1992. During that time the university was penalized three different times by the NCAA.

It was the second suit Tarkanian had filed against the NCAA. The first one ended when a divided Supreme Court ruled in 1988 that Tarkanian could not sue because the athletic body acted as a private organization and not with government authority.

Tarkanian's fight with the NCAA first reached the courts after the Nevada Las Vegas program was put on two years' probation in 1977 for what the NCAA termed "questionable recruiting practices."

The NCAA ordered Nevada Las Vegas to suspend Tarkanian for two years at the time, but Tarkanian obtained a court order blocking the action. Tarkanian then sued the NCAA, beginning litigation that ended when the Supreme Court threw out the case.

Tarkanian's last season at Nevada Las Vegas also ended under an NCAA cloud when the school was banned from postseason play and live television appearances because of alleged rules violations.

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