Oregon lawmaker: Rule-breaking coaches should pay

Of the Associated Press

SALEM — One Oregon state lawmaker wants to make college coaches pay up if their recruiting methods break the rules.

A state House committee heard brief testimony Wednesday but took no action on a bill that would make coaches personally liable for the university's legal fees and other costs if they “intentionally or recklessly” commit a major NCAA rules violation.

Rep. Brent Barton says coaches have almost no incentive to play by the rules, and plenty of reasons to cut corners to build a name for themselves. Players, students and fans shouldn't be stuck paying the bill, he says.

“The problem is that the cost and benefits are misaligned,” Barton, an Oregon City Democrat, told The Associated Press. “You have coaches who reap the benefits in the short term of ... bending the rules when it comes to NCAA recruiting, but the long-term costs of the conduct are borne by the schools, the players and fans.”

The University of Oregon's incoming student body president backed the bill, telling lawmakers at the hearing that it would be an opportunity for Oregon to show leadership in college athletics.

“It is an unorthodox and innovative approach that would put Oregon out in front of a national issue,” Sam Dotters-Katz said.

Troy Wood, a self-identified major Ducks fan, told lawmakers he'd like to see the bill apply to administrators and boosters, not only coaches.

The bill would allow universities or the state attorney general to sue coaches for legal fees and “actual damages,” such as fines and lost scholarships, the university incurs as a result of an NCAA investigation that results in a finding of a “major violation.”

Barton said the bill is unlikely to go far this year but could return next year. He said he'd prefer national legislation so all schools are subject to the same rules, but even so, he doesn't think Oregon would have trouble recruiting talented coaches.

“This bill would put the universities at a disadvantage relative to other colleges and universities in attracting and retaining coaches in all sports,” University of Oregon lawyers told lawmakers in written testimony.

The bill originally targeted former coaches, potentially including former University of Oregon football coach Chip Kelly, but Barton said Wednesday that coaches should only be held liable for violations in the future. He cited legal concerns about changing the law for past conduct.

Kelly built Oregon's football program into a national powerhouse, then left in January to coach the NFL's Philadelphia Eagles as NCAA investigators looked into the university's relationship with recruiting firms. A spokesman for the Eagles did not immediately respond to a request for comment. The NCAA has not taken enforcement action against Oregon.

NCAA investigations can be costly for colleges. The University of Oregon had a $150,000 contract with a law firm that specializes in NCAA compliance, and the firm had billed $141,000 through the end of July, The Oregonian reported last year. Major violations can result in sanctions, including lost scholarships and a ban on post-season play.

The NCAA began looking into possible violations following reports about payments Oregon made to recruiting services, including a $25,000 payment to Willie Lyles and Houston-based Complete Scouting Services in 2010. Lyles had a connection with an Oregon recruit.

Barton, the lawmaker, said the bill was never specifically targeting Kelly, though Oregon's potential recruiting violations sparked him to consider ways to encourage better behavior by coaches.

In addition to Kelly, he pointed to former Southern California football coach Pete Carroll and former Memphis basketball coach John Calipari, who took on prestigious new jobs amid NCAA investigations at their old schools.

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