Tim Cohane, the former University at Buffalo basketball coach whose 10-year legal battle with the NCAA has garnered national attention, has lost again.
A federal judge has recommended dismissing Cohane’s lawsuit accusing the National Collegiate Athletic Association of conspiring with UB and the Mid American Conference to remove him as head coach.
The ruling by U.S. Magistrate Judge H. Kenneth Schroeder Jr. comes as the latest development in a suit that has its roots in Cohane’s resignation in 1999 and allegations of intimidation and bullying by the NCAA and UB and bribes and threats by Cohane.
Schroeder, in a 128-page decision, ruled that Cohane was given plenty of opportunity to challenge his resignation and the NCAA violations against him.
“There is simply no evidence of collusion between SUNY Buffalo and the NCAA,” the judge said in his decision. And “there is no evidence that SUNY Buffalo exerted influence over or acted in concert with the NCAA enforcement staff.”
Cohane’s wrongful termination case, like many lawsuits against the NCAA, has attracted national attention because of increasing scrutiny of the amateur athletic organization.
Over the past few years, the NCAA has been rocked by several scandals, some of them surrounding disciplinary investigations like the one it conducted into Cohane.
“While we may be disappointed in the magistrate’s decision, this case is far from over,” Sean O’Leary, Cohane’s lawyer, said Friday.
At the core of Cohane’s suit is the claim that he was forced out because of a flawed investigation by the NCAA, MAC and UB.
He also believes his former boss, then-UB Athletic Director Robert Arkeilpane, and former assistant coach Eric “Rock” Eisenberg were the driving forces in removing him from the head coaching job.
Cohane, who has lost at the lower court level before only to succeed on appeal, will have the option of appealing again. Schroeder’s ruling also must be approved by Chief U.S. District Judge William M. Skretny.
“We are looking forward to the district court accepting the magistrate’s recommendation to dismiss the NCAA and end this litigation,” NCAA spokeswoman Stacey Osburn said in a statement Friday.
In many ways, Schroeder’s ruling in favor of the NCAA mirrors a ruling he made six months ago in favor of UB and the MAC. The two cases were later consolidated into a single lawsuit.
“The university is pleased but not surprised by the magistrate judge’s decision,” UB said in a statement Friday. “We have consistently said that the university dealt fairly with this situation at the time.”
Cohane, who spent six years as UB’s head coach but has not worked as a head coach since then, has said in the past that he filed the suit in order to clear his name.
He claims the NCAA conspired with UB and the MAC to trump up charges against him and, in his suit, accused them of concealing evidence, altering testimony and bullying his former players into signing false affidavits.
The suit also suggests that Arkeilpane and Eisenberg worked together to push him out the door. Arkeilpane never denied his dissatisfaction with Cohane’s coaching, but says his conspiracy claims are groundless.
Cohane resigned before the NCAA investigation was complete, and UB was eventually placed on two years’ probation.
“The university accepted NCAA and MAC penalties imposed as a result of rules infractions,” UB said Friday. And “Mr. Cohane chose to voluntarily leave university service in 1999 rather than exercise his due process rights.”
The NCAA, MAC and UB have countered Cohane’s conspiracy allegations by suggesting his resignation was really about unethical behavior.
Among the rules he was accused him of breaking is one that prohibits coaches from watching uncommitted recruits play pick-up basketball in their college gym.
The organizations also claim Cohane tried to intimidate and bribe Eisenberg, his onetime assistant, into lying to NCAA investigators.
Schroeder details many of the back-and-forth allegations, many of them salacious and unproven, in his ruling but in the end found that all three organizations provided Cohane with adequate “due process.”
“The NCAA provided plaintiff sufficient notice of the detailed charges and afforded him multiple opportunities to present his defense of the allegations,” the judge said in his ruling.
Cohane’s suit has attracted national attention, not only because of its criticism of the NCAA, but also because of it’s legal foundation.
The suit challenges one of the NCAA’s most cherished legal protections – the notion that the organization is exempt from some of the Constitution’s most basic rights, including the right of individuals to legal protection from the government.
A similar case was filed by former Nevada Las Vegas basketball coach Jerry Tarkanian. Tarkanian’s case went all the way to the U.S. Supreme Court and resulted in a 1988 landmark decision preserving the NCAA’s long-standing protections.
Cohane, by contrast, has had some success against the organization.
In 2007, a federal appeals court ruled in his favor – the Supreme Court let the ruling stand – when it overturned a lower court ruling dismissing his case. That same suit is now back before Skretny.
As part of the suit, Cohane is seeking $50 million in damages from the NCAA, UB and the MAC, but O’Leary insists cash is not his client’s ultimate motivation.
Cohane is, after all, a self-made millionaire.
During a hiatus from coaching in the early 1990s, he owned his own Wall Street brokerage firm and made millions dealing mortgage securities.