Even before the NCAA lost a Supreme Court appeal Monday, settlement talks had begun with coaches who have been awarded almost $67 million from the ruling body of college sports.
The NCAA, looking at a total bill of around $80 million counting lawyer fees, has offered $44 million to the roughly 1,900 coaches, NCAA spokesman Wally Renfro said.
A lawyer for the coaches said the latest offer of $58.5 million probably will be increased since the Supreme Court on Monday let stand a ruling that the NCAA acted unlawfully in capping coaches' salaries.
The NCAA's lawyers said the lower court ruling "places in grave doubt the future of competitive intercollegiate athletics."
The coaches' lawyers argued the salary cap was "only garden-variety price fixing," and that college sports had thrived for years without such pay restrictions.
Last May, a federal jury awarded treble damages amounting to around $67 million to entry-level "restricted earnings coaches" whose annual salaries had been capped at $16,000.
The total figure of around $80 million has alarmed NCAA schools and angered athletic officials whose annual budgets could be hit hard.
How the award will be spread among NCAA schools is also a touchy political issue within college athletics. Small schools want big schools to pay the lion's share while most big schools believe the pain should be shared equally since the restricted earnings rule was agreed upon by nearly all 300 Division I schools.
Before the three-week jury trial in May, which set damages at $67 million, the NCAA suggested it might settle for as much as $18 million.
"The NCAA has moved a lot," Renfro said. "We feel that is a very fair figure. Plaintiffs could do with that what they wish. If they want to attach a time value to that money (in an annuity) they can do so. If they want to take it all in cash, they could."
Coaches' lawyer Dennis Cross said it will now take more than $60 million to settle the case.
"We're not moving toward them anymore," he said. "I'm going to make an offer that's going to be a little more and see if (the Supreme Court decision) has changed their mind."
The NCAA still has several post-trial motions pending. Once those motions are ruled on, the NCAA could appeal them to the 10th circuit cour of appeals.
Barring a settlement, the case could drag on another year or two.
"We still believe we have a very strong appeal case on the trial, that there were errors made in the trial," Renfro said. "We feel very solidly that the 10th circuit will acknowledge those errors."
"I would say they've made some significant moves, as have we," Cross said. "But we're still a long way apart. I'm not optimistic that we're going to settle.
"Way back when the case began, they could have settled cheaply. But everything that's happened since has caused the settlement to go up," Cross said. "The $80 million is accumulating interest at a rate of over $12,000 a day. We don't think it would be fair to ask the coaches to settle for fifty cents on the dollar."
© 1998 SportsLine USA, Inc. All rights reserved