In the biggest financial penalty levied against the NCAA, a federal jury Monday ordered the governing body to pay almost $67-million in damages for restricting coaches' salaries.
The ruling angered college officials across the country. The NCAA said athletes will suffer as a consequence.
The NCAA, which had a chance to settle the case before it went to court more than four years ago, likely will appeal.
"This is extremely disappointing," NCAA lawyer Elsa Cole said. "It will have a negative impact on the services and opportunities we can offer our student-athletes."
"We never wanted to have a lawsuit," said Andy Greer, an assistant basketball coach at Northern Illinois, who helped start the case when he coached at Southern California.
"We begged them to get rid of the rule before it was enacted. They ignored us. The NCAA is responsible for what's happening to itself. These people need to look in the mirror."
The judgment comes less than a month after the NCAA agreed to settle its longstanding dispute with Fresno State men's basketball coach Jerry Tarkanian, who reportedly was paid $2.5-million to drop his suit.
"This is a win for the little guy," Greer said. "We tried to reason with them, and they just pushed us aside."
Appealing the judgment would delay for at least 18 months any money ultimately paid in the class-action suit.
The plaintiffs asked for $30-million covering about 1,900 coaches. The NCAA said only 59 coaches had been economically damaged and were due about $900,000.
The restricted-earnings coach rule was adopted at the 1991 NCAA convention as a way to save money and create an entry-level coaching position. It specified that certain assistants in various Division I sports could be paid no more than $12,000 during the academic year and $4,000 in summer.
The jury set damages for restricted-earnings coaches in men's basketball at $11.2-million. Men's baseball coaches were awarded $1.6-million, and a third group of coaches was awarded $9.5-million. Under antitrust law, all damages are tripled.
"Everybody who voted for (the rule) should bear responsibility," Big Ten commissioner Jim Delany said. "If this holds up I think there will be some Monday morning quarterbacking."
Delany said some will suggest the matter should have been settled out of court.
Said Bob Frederick of Kansas, one of the most influential athletic directors: "I've heard that we might have been able to settle out of court for far less. If that's the case, then I'm really disappointed."
How the NCAA will pay such a large judgment is to be decided and could be a source of contention among members. With a CBS basketball contract valued at $1.75-billion, the NCAA is rich, but its reserves would not begin to cover the cost of the penalty plus legal fees for both sides, already estimated at $10-million.
"It's beyond my comprehension how we're going to be able to absorb this without changing the way we do business," said Patty Viverito, associate commissioner of the Missouri Valley Conference. "This will affect not just the way the NCAA does business on a daily basis. It will also impact institutional budgets."
Said Frederick: "My guess is that it will be withheld from some future distribution. Unless we have a really strong belief that something can be changed on appeal, I'd say forget it and cut our losses."
The jury rejected the NCAA's contention the effect of the rule ended immediately when it was found in violation of antitrust law in May 1995. The plaintiffs argued the effect of the rule continued.