Former University at Buffalo basketball coach Timothy Cohane, who claims the NCAA colluded with the university to wreck his career, will be able to pursue his lawsuit against the athletic association thanks to a Supreme Court action Tuesday.
The NCAA argued that the high court should review the legal argument behind the claim or throw it out altogether. But without comment, the Supreme Court refused to hear the case.
That leaves the matter in the hands of a federal appeals court in New York City, which already has said the case can go forward. The NCAA says it sets a precedent that could destroy its ability to regulate college athletics.
"Such litigation could cripple the association's ability to enforce the rules that its members have agreed upon," the NCAA's top attorney, Maureen Mahoney, and other lawyers wrote in asking the high court to hear the case.
That's because under a previous appeals court ruling, Cohane will be allowed to pursue the case not just on the basis of alleged defamation on the part of the NCAA, but also as a constitutional violation.
Cohane argues that the NCAA colluded with the University at Buffalo in an investigation that followed his forced resignation for recruiting violations in 1999.
And by colluding with a state entity that's subject to the constitutional requirement that rights can't be violated without "due process of law," the case threatens to lead to costly legal action whenever the NCAA joins forces with a state school to pursue cheaters, the NCAA argued.
Lawyers for Cohane, who coached at UB from 1993 to 1999, said their case "establishes no controlling precedent" that would affect other cases. That's because what is at issue is not just the fact that a university and the NCAA cooperated on an investigation, but that the University at Buffalo and the association improperly colluded on a botched probe.
"The NCAA and the university took joint actions in light of a corrupt agreement to deprive respondent of his liberty interest in his reputation and to destroy his ability to pursue his chosen occupation," Cohane's top attorney, Amy Howe, and other lawyers wrote in papers filed with the Supreme Court.
Cohane resigned as UB's basketball coach on Dec. 3, 1999, amid allegations of recruiting violations, such as illegal workouts and tryouts for prospective players.
UB cooperated in a subsequent NCAA investigation, which found that Cohane had been guilty of major infractions. The university and the NCAA announced the investigation's findings at a joint news conference, where the NCAA announced that Cohane would not again be allowed to coach at the college level.
Later, though, the NCAA Appeals Committee said many aspects of the case against Cohane were "troublesome." The appeals panel reprimanded the NCAA Committee on Infractions for not interviewing key witnesses and for inconsistent investigation techniques.
Nevertheless, neither the NCAA nor UB ever revoked the initial report, prompting Cohane to pursue two different legal actions -- one against the NCAA and one against several former UB officials, including former President William R. Greiner and former athletic director Robert Arkeilpane.
The court papers in the UB case allege that the university unfairly pressured Cohane into resigning even though Cohane denied any wrongdoing.
Arkeilpane "became consumed with having Cohane fired" after Cohane publicly protested the removal of another UB coach in 1998, Cohane alleged in court papers.
Cohane claims UB administrators pressured players into giving false testimony to investigators from the NCAA, which resulted in a tainted investigation.
News Staff Reporter Dan Herbeck contributed to this report.