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Neuheisel's Job Could Be on the Line

Coach's career is in jeopardy at Washington after he admits to taking part in a gambling pool the last two years.

June 06, 2003|Steve Henson | Times Staff Writer

Scoot over, Mike Price and Larry Eustachy. Make room for Rick Neuheisel at your table of misconduct.

You might want to hold a spot for him in the unemployment line as well.

The Washington football coach with a history of NCAA violations appears on the verge of losing his job after he admitted to participating in a gambling pool the last two years.

Washington officials met Thursday and are expected to hand out a penalty in the next few days. There might be little choice but to fire Neuheisel because not doing so could trigger severe sanctions against Washington from the Pacific 10 Conference or NCAA.

Washington Athletic Director Barbara Hedges told the Seattle Times she learned of Neuheisel's involvement in the betting pool late Wednesday.

"Gambling is a serious violation of NCAA rules," Hedges said. "You can't minimize this. The university will take this very seriously."

The NCAA and Pac-10 received a tip that Neuheisel wagered thousands of dollars on the 2002 NCAA basketball tournament. The coach acknowledged he made the bets, a violation of a rule that specifies coaches may not "solicit or accept a bet on any intercollegiate competition for any item (e.g., cash, shirt, dinner) that has tangible value."

"I never in my wildest dreams imagined I was doing anything to jeopardize my employment," Neuheisel told the Seattle Times after a meeting with investigators.

"Obviously, it's become a point of contention, but I never imagined that I was doing anything wrong, because we weren't dealing with bookies or lines or anything like that."

Neuheisel briefly addressed the Washington team during a previously scheduled meeting Thursday evening, but players said the coach talked only about preparing for the season.

His claim that he did not realize gambling was an infraction is not expected to exonerate him. Even though the bets apparently were not placed on football games, the NCAA and Pac-10 have made clear that gambling on any NCAA sport is not taken lightly.

"The reason the NCAA feels so strongly about gambling is that it can lead directly to the integrity of the sport," said Jeff Howard, an NCAA spokesman. "And [gambling] is not at all a victimless crime."

Said Pac-10 Commissioner Tom Hansen: "It is fair to say gambling is an area in which the NCAA conferences and institutions devote a great deal of effort and energy to make clear that it is a forbidden activity."

Neuheisel, 42, whose contract is for $1.21 million a year through 2007, characterized the gambling as innocuous fun, saying he and three friends pooled their money for the auction and split the winnings. He reportedly put up $5,000 and won about $20,000 after taking Maryland in the auction-format pool.

"I was there really because most of these people were buddies of mine from my neighborhood," he said. "We were just friends, like we were betting on golf holes. It seemed pretty harmless."

Neuheisel is the third prominent coach in a little more than a month whose poor judgment put his job on the line.

Price was fired as football coach at Alabama on May 3 for his behavior surrounding a night at a strip club and Eustachy resigned as basketball coach at Iowa State on May 5 after the publication of embarrassing photos of him drinking and kissing young women at a late-night party.

At first glance, Neuheisel, a coach with a law degree, seemed an unlikely candidate to commit such an infraction. But he long has been perceived as thumbing his nose at the NCAA.

Less than a month after being hired at Washington in January 1999, he was investigated for making improper contact with five recruits. Months later, it was reported that he committed similar transgressions while coach at Colorado from 1995 to 1998.

In 2002, Colorado was charged with more than 50 minor violations during Neuheisel's tenure and the NCAA prohibited him from recruiting off-campus for eight months. The ban ended only last Saturday and he spent much of the day Wednesday attending an NCAA compliance seminar.

His problems were not restricted to playing fast and loose with recruiting rules. Neuheisel's popularity in Seattle began to erode last season when the Huskies went 7-6 and needed a late-season rally to avoid becoming the first Washington team since 1976 to post a losing record.

His integrity was questioned in February when he was caught in a lie. Neuheisel denied he had interviewed with the San Francisco 49ers when in fact he had met with team officials.

The gambling is far more serious and could end his career at Washington, where he is 33-15 in four years. It also could cause tax problems if the winnings were not reported to the Internal Revenue Service.

Times staff writer Chris Dufresne and Associated Press contributed to this report.

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