Originally created 03/10/99

Underpaid coaches earn settlement



KANSAS CITY, Mo. -- Underpaid college coaches who successfully sued the NCAA are finally getting a big bonus: $54.5 million.

The governing body of college sports agreed Tuesday to pay the amount to about 2,000 Division I assistant coaches whose salary was capped at $12,000 for an academic year.

The so-called restricted-earnings rule lasted three years (1992-95) before a judge struck it down. The coaches and the NCAA had been fighting over a settlement ever since.

"This association-wide nightmare is over," Charles Wethington, NCAA executive committee chairman, said in announcing an end to years of expensive litigation.

In the settlement, the NCAA must still decide how much each of the 302 Division I schools will pay. Officials of many schools have criticized the organization for not settling the case sooner.

The schools' financial pain could be cushioned by about $22 million the NCAA will make over the next three years through cost-cutting measures, executive director Cedric Dempsey said. But the schools would still be responsible for the balance of the settlement.

Dempsey would not speculate on a school-by-school allocation of the damages. He said a subcommittee that is already studying the question has heard two "extremes" -- one to divide the total equally among all Division I schools, the other tied to distribution of revenue based on school size.

"It is not likely the subcommittee's allocation plan will embrace either of these solutions," said Dempsey, adding that the NCAA wants to decide before the organization's next fiscal year begins in September.

The settlement now awaits a judge's approval, which will clear the way for the coaches to submit claims.

They won't split the money evenly, however. Instead, the amount they receive will be based on what they made under the cap and what their schools would otherwise have paid them, said Dennis Cross, a Kansas City-based lawyer for the coaches.

It will probably be months before checks are sent out to the coaches, many of whom are no longer in college sports, he said.

The restricted-earnings rule was adopted as a cost-cutting move by near-unanimous vote of Division I schools in 1991 and took effect in August 1992. The rule capped salaries for entry-level assistants in various sports, excluding football, at $12,000 for the academic year and $4,000 for the summer.

Coaches filed three lawsuits that were later consolidated into one, and the NCAA lifted the rule in 1995 after a federal judge in Kansas City, Kan., ruled that the organization violated antitrust laws. An appellate court upheld that ruling, and the U.S. Supreme Court refused to hear the case.

Following a trial last year on damages, a jury awarded the coaches more than $22 million. The damages were tripled to $67 million because it was an antitrust case.

Last fall, the NCAA offered $44 million as a settlement while the coaches sought $60 million. In January, the judge granted the coaches' request to increase the damages to nearly $75 million to adjust for inflation.