National Collegiate Athletic Association

The NCAA News - News and Features

April 13, 1998

NCAA, Tarkanian end lengthy dispute with $2.5 million settlement

The NCAA and Jerry Tarkanian have settled a legal dispute that lasted 26 years and featured detours through Congress, the Supreme Court, assorted state and federal courts, and even several state legislatures.

The settlement, $2.5 million paid to Tarkanian and his wife Lois, was announced April 2. In addition to the payment, both parties released all claims relating to the pending actions of the lawsuit. Neither party admitted liability.

Tarkanian, former men's basketball coach at Long Beach State University and the University of Nevada, Las Vegas, alleged that the NCAA committed tortious breach of an implied covenant of good faith, tortious interference with his employment contract, tortious interference with his contractual relations, tortious interference with a prospective economic advantage, breach of fiduciary duty, infliction of emotional distress and fraud.

NCAA Executive Director Cedric W. Dempsey cited several factors that were involved in the decision to settle, including:

  • A request by a federal appeals court to mediate the lawsuit before it went to trial.

  • The length of time over which the dispute has existed.

  • An analysis of the case, the cost of continuing, and the potential for more appeals, regardless of the outcome.

    The NCAA stressed that it continues to have faith in its enforcement procedures, as well as in the enforcement staff.

    "This settlement does not repudiate NCAA enforcement procedures," Dempsey said. "We believe in the enforcement procedures that were in place in 1976, and we believe in them as they exist today. By 2018 or some other date in the future, the procedures probably will have evolved again and will be appropriate for that time."

    Back to 1972

    The suit in question was brought by Tarkanian and his wife Lois against the NCAA in 1992. The NCAA's overall dispute with Tarkanian dates to 1972, when he was coach at Long Beach State.

    "We very much appreciate the professionalism exhibited by the representatives of the NCAA in resolving this conflict, and it is our intent to put the past behind us and move forward as a positive member of the NCAA family," Tarkanian said.

    "Lois and I always have, and always will, support the goals and the contributions of the NCAA. The NCAA plays a very important role that is responsible for the success of college athletics. We look forward to a new era where we can all make college athletics everything that they can and should be."

    The NCAA had sought a change of venue to move the trial from Las Vegas. After the change was denied, the Association determined that winning the suit in a state court in Las Vegas was unlikely, given the popularity of Tarkanian in that locale.

    "It is important to note that this was a membership decision made by the presidents who sit on the NCAA Executive Committee," Dempsey said. "They represent the membership, and they approved the settlement."

    The case originated in the early 1970s after violations were found in men's basketball programs at both Long Beach State and UNLV. Tarkanian, who moved to UNLV from Long Beach State in 1973, denied wrongdoing in either case, but in 1977, the NCAA Committee on Infractions ruled that he was subject to NCAA "show-cause" provisions and was to be suspended from involvement in athletics activities for two years.

    Tarkanian sued and won legal victories in Nevada state courts. A Nevada Congressman, James Santini, also was able to gain a hearing on NCAA enforcement procedures before the U.S. House of Representatives Subcommittee on Oversight and Investigations. That hearing resulted in several changes to NCAA enforcement procedures that were enacted in 1979.

    Supreme Court decision

    The case eventually worked its way to the U.S. Supreme Court, which ruled in 1984 that the NCAA was not engaged in state action and thus was not bound by formal due-process standards in levying its penalty against Tarkanian.

    New allegations of rules violations in the UNLV men's basketball program emerged in 1987.

    In 1991, the Nevada state legislature passed a law requiring the NCAA to use defined due-process procedures in its investigations (several other states adopted the Nevada model). Tarkanian urged that the NCAA adhere to the statute in processing the 1987 case. The NCAA claimed the state law was invalid and sued in federal court to have it overturned. Tarkanian filed counterclaims, alleging tortious behavior by the NCAA. In July 1992, a federal district court determined that the Nevada law and others like it were unconstitutional.

    In March 1992, Tarkanian resigned at UNLV, but in November 1992, he and his wife refiled the counterclaims as a new lawsuit against the NCAA. The NCAA moved for partial summary judgment and a change of venue, but both motions were denied in 1996. The case was set to go to trial May 18.

    Tarkanian is currently the men's basketball coach at California State University, Fresno.