NCAA Suffers Setback in Defamation Case as Trial Looms

Apr 21, 2006

Attorneys representing a plaintiff, who is suing the NCAA for defamation in connection with statements made during the NCAA’s investigation of the University of Alabama football program, have recently picked up a legal victory in Alabama state court.
Specifically, Judge Wallace Haralson denied a motion by the NCAA, which had sought to exclude a former NCAA vice president and former chairman of the Division I Infractions Committee (1991-99) from testifying on behalf of the plaintiff.
Instead, David Swank, a University of Oklahoma law professor, will be permitted to testify in the case brought by Alabama businessman Ray Keller, with the caveat that the plaintiff disclose more about the nature of Swank’s testimony.
Keller’s claim centered, for the most part, on a comment made at a press conference announcing sanctions of the Alabama football program in which the current committee on infractions chairman Tom Yeager used the following words to describe the boosters: “rogue,” “pariah,” and “lack of redeeming value.”
Keller sued for libel, slander, defamation, intentional interference with a business relationship, invasion of privacy, conspiracy, and negligent and/or wanton hiring and supervision. He named the NCAA, Yeager and NCAA investigator Richard Johanningmeier as defendants.
“From the beginning, instead of taking a broadside we really tried to make this a rifle shot lawsuit,” Keller’s lead attorney Archie Lamb told the Huntsville Times. “They were absolutely pathetic in the way they went about charging Ray with the misconduct they say he engaged in. Then, even though they didn’t prove it at all, they lumped him in with allegations against someone else … called him names and led people to believe he was involved with the violations in Memphis.
“He was in a huge transaction with a national corporation and the way they portrayed him … caused a national company to say if you’re going to be involved with this guy, we’re not going to deal with you. He lost millions of dollars because of that.”
The NCAA currently has a motion to dismiss before the court, which will be heard on April 25.
Swank, a professional expert witness, also had testified as an expert witness in a wrongful dismissal lawsuit brought by former Ohio State University basketball coach Jim O’Brien against that school.


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