It’s getting lost in this week’s Battle of the Century in Tuscaloosa, but there’s another battle going on in an Alabama courtroom, where a ‘Bama booster, Ray Keller, is suing the NCAA for defamation in connection with the infamous “rogue booster” matter that last put the Crimson Tide program on probation.
Two former coaches testified on Keller’s behalf this week, former ‘Bama head coach Gene Stallings and John Mackovic. Some of their testimony sounds a bit rich, given the fine line they tried to walk between coming off as the men in charge, while acknowledging that bad things happen sometimes:
“Sometimes things happen you don’t know about,” Stallings said, “… just like you don’t know everything your children do, who their friends are.”
“There are boosters at every school,” Mackovic said. “Boosters buy tickets, make donations … the fine arts department has boosters, too, but they don’t call them that.”
I can’t wait until the NCAA starts cracking down on rogue fine arts departments around the country.
Mr. Keller tried to be pretty fast on his feet as well.
… Twice, Keller shook his head, threw up his hands and blamed his lawyers for what he called incorrect statements made in court documents. He admitted knowing numerous Alabama football players, but said he met every one of them through his son or daughter, who attended the school.
Keller acknowledged speaking with coaches by phone and talking to one on the field during a game. He also recalled staying at team motels on road trips, having players in his room and attending pep rallies at hotels.
Despite all that, he denied having “insider” status with the program — a claim that prompted laughter in the courtroom…
Given that the NCAA never mentioned Keller by name when it issued the report…
The NCAA’s defense has said it referred to Keller only as “athletic representative C” and not by name when it announced the penalties. But Keller’s name was used by the media, and the university president sent Keller a letter telling him to stay away from Alabama athletics.
Keller and NCAA attorney Allen Dodd battled over who was to blame for Keller’s name becoming public, with Dodd repeatedly asking why Keller sued the NCAA rather than the university.
“It was in the national press conference when the NCAA called me all those names. It wasn’t the University of Alabama,” said Keller.
Keller denied suggestions that he leaked his own name to the media, resulting in the unwanted publicity, but he acknowledged being friendly with a sports writer in Tuscaloosa.
… you’d think that Keller would have a hard time winning a defamation case. But this is Alabama. It’s hard to imagine that a local jury wouldn’t want to stick it to the NCAA.