Trial begins in former coach’s lawsuit against the UW, NCAA

A civil lawsuit that pits former UW Football Coach Rick Neuheisel against the UW and NCAA began Jan. 31 with opening arguments in King County Superior Court. Neuheisel is suing over breach of contact following his termination by the UW in June 2003. He is also suing the NCAA, claiming it contributed to his termination.

As Columns went to press in mid-February, the jury was still hearing testimony. The entire trial is expected to last four to six weeks and is being heard in the courtroom of Superior Court Judge Michael Spearman.

The UW maintains that the termination was justified because the contract explicitly stated Neuheisel could be discharged for an act of dishonesty. The UW says that Neuheisel did not tell the truth about applying for a job opening with the San Francisco 49ers in February 2003 and that officials warned him any further transgressions would result in his firing. The UW also says that in June 2003, when NCAA investigators first questioned the coach about participating in betting pools on college basketball tournaments, he did not tell the truth.

Attorneys for the former coach maintain that Neuheisel was confused in the initial interviews about the betting pools and that in the third interview that day he admitted participation. They say Neuheisel did not think the betting was a violation since he relied upon a memo issued by former UW Compliance Director Dana Richardson, which incorrectly stated that staff could participate with friends on low-stakes gambling pools.

Neuheisel’s attorneys also claim that the NCAA was pressuring the UW to fire Neuheisel and that it did not follow its own rules in the investigation. The NCAA says it followed its procedures correctly.

The former coach has sued for up to $6.5 million which includes wages remaining on his contract as well as punitive damages. The UW has countersued for $1.5 million to settle a loan it provided to the coach as part of his last contract.

In another court case, former volunteer softball team physician William Scheyer pleaded guilty Jan. 19 in U.S. District Court to illegally obtaining prescription drugs. Scheyer admitted that he obtained narcotics in the names of students and staff without their knowledge and that he distributed drugs in blank envelopes to student-athletes with few or no instructions. Scheyer’s sentencing is due in April.

A UW investigation found that Scheyer improperly prescribed and distributed large quantities of narcotic medicine and other prescription drugs to UW softball players from 1999 to 2003.

After revelations of Scheyer’s practices appeared in the press, the UW removed former Softball Coach Teresa Wilson from her position and did not renew her contract. Wilson is suing the UW for wrongful termination.