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Inside the NCAA infractions panel

BY IAN MURPHY | FEBRUARY 28, 2014 5:00 AM

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Famed college-sports attorney Gene Marsh understands the difficulties of keeping college athletics in line.

Marsh served 10 years on the NCAA’s top enforcement committee and later represented universities and coaches, including Penn State, in high-profile cases before the same committee.
Marsh said he often receives criticism from people who may not know both sides of the issue.

“In my line of work, I get an unending line of people, and the worst are lawyers, hyped-up sports fans with law degrees,” Marsh said in the Boyd Law Building on Thursday.

Marsh cited the well-publicized Baylor University men’s basketball scandal that occurred in 2003 as an example.

Patrick Dennehy, one of the players, was murdered by another teammate, but he was also receiving payouts from the coaching staff to cover tuition, a breach of NCAA rules. 

To cover up for the money Dennehy was receiving, head coach Dave Bliss decided to frame Dennehy as a drug dealer. The conversations concerning the frame were recorded on tape by an assistant coach and released to the public.

Marsh said after a press conference concerning the incident, which occurred during his tenure on the infractions committee, he received an email from an attorney with a major law firm in Texas who was upset about the ruling.

“I check my emails one more time before I’m about to head to class, and I see an email from a gigantic law firm in Dallas, Texas, from a guy who was Baylor undergrad, Harvard law degree, with one of the most renowned national law firms in the world, who is on a hell bent rant about how unfair the NCAA was to his alma mater,” Marsh said. “Just dog cussing me, my momma, my dogs — I mean just off his rocker, nuts.”

Those kinds of reactions are “fairly common,” and Marsh later received another email from the same lawyer —who had since read the full report— apologizing for his email and saying how shocked he was at the actions of his alma mater.

Dan Matheson of the UI Recreation and Sports Business Program at the UI, said there was not a more thorough committee member than Marsh.

Matheson testified while Marsh was on the committee on several infraction cases. Marsh always read each document submitted to the committee and came prepared to ask questions about them.

“He was tough but fair,” Matheson said.

Marsh has moved on to the other side, however, and now represents coaches, athletes, and schools when they are summoned before the committee. Recently, he worked with Penn State.

“If you put [my body of work] in a bucket, it’s a thimble compared to Penn State,” Marsh said.

Marsh said he never intended to get into sports law and had always wanted to be a teacher.  He is a law professor at the University of Alabama in Tuscaloosa.

Marsh said, he did not attend a football game during his four years of undergraduate study at Ohio State University, and he has attended only two games at Bryant-Denny stadium in Tuscaloosa since moving to Alabama.

“I’m better at what I do not being a fan,” Marsh said.

Students who attended the lecture said they were unaware of the other sides of the NCAA regulation.
Law students Lucus Carney and Dillon Besser said Marsh provided insight they could not have received elsewhere.

“I’ve wanted to get into sports law,” Besser said, because he is an avid sports fan. “… But he looks at it like a job.”


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