Updates to our Terms of Use

We are updating our Terms of Use. Please carefully review the updated Terms before proceeding to our website.

Thursday, May 23, 2024 | Back issues
Courthouse News Service Courthouse News Service

Fired Baseball Boss Sues ASU and NCAA

PHOENIX (CN) - The former director of Arizona State's baseball program claims ASU conspired with the NCAA to defame, fire and maliciously prosecute him because he told the NCAA during its investigation of recruiting violations that ASU did not properly train its coaches.

Michael Rooney, former director of baseball operations at ASU, says the NCAA began investigating recruiting violations in the ASU baseball program in 2009, in response to allegations that the school had improperly reported recruiting phone calls.

A former graduate assistant for the baseball program had previously notified the university about the calls, which prompted the investigation, Rooney says in his complaint in Maricopa County Court.

"The NCAA had previously investigated, and failed to fully prosecute, the ASU football program in 2005," according to the complaint. "This failed prosecution of the football program motivated the NCAA, in part, to pursue recklessly, maliciously, and without probable cause the ASU baseball program and Rooney."

The NCAA enforcement staff reviewed all recruiting calls made by ASU baseball coaches during the 2006-2007 school year and found 160 alleged violations, the complaint states. The NCAA then asked ASU to conduct an audit of all phone calls to prospective student athletes made by ASU coaching staff between 2004 and 2009.

Rooney says that the spreadsheet from that audit "was rushed, poorly drafted, incomplete, and contained numerous inaccuracies."

He says that in 2009, ASU personnel asked him to help determine the extent of the potential violations referred to in the spreadsheet.

Rooney claims that ASU's senior associate athletic director Don Bocchi told head baseball coach Pat Murphy to "scrub" the call logs. He says coach Murphy then told him to investigate the call logs.

Bochi is named as a defendant; Murphy is not.

At the request of his superiors, Rooney says, he made a "comprehensive" spreadsheet to explain the disputed calls and to identify errors in the university's initial report.

"Rooney's obedience and effort not only helped to identify the errors in the aforementioned spreadsheet, it also helped to identify how the violations occurred, identified the failures in ASU's internal procedures, identified errors in ASU's spreadsheet, and, ultimately, allowed ASU to identify and rectify the internal problems that resulted in the violation calls," the complaint states.

"The products of Rooney's ASU-directed efforts constituted evidence of failure to adequately educate its coaches and to employ a reliable system of checks and balances designed to avoid the systemic compliance failure that was the direct cause of the numerous telephone violations ultimately confirmed. ...

"The NCAA Committee on Infractions ('COI'), in exonerating Rooney from the integrity allegations, confirmed that there was nothing improper about Rooney's work and adrnonished the Enforcement Staff for making the allegation in light of the lack of any factual basis to support the allegation," according to the complaint.

But in late September 2009, Rooney says, ASU's athletic director told him the NCAA wanted to interview him, and did not allow him to bring an attorney to the interview.

During the interview, the NCAA enforcement staff and ASU's in-house counsel "interrogated Rooney with the intent of placing blame on Rooney and other members of the ASU baseball program" rather than hold the university accountable for its failures, Rooney says. (38)

Rooney said he told his interviewers that ASU poorly educated its coaches about complying with NCAA rules for telephone recruiting, and said he had been instructed by ASU staff to "scrub the calls."

As a result, Rooney says, he was fired, and the NCAA did not even interview Don Bocchi, who ordered him to "scrub" the call list.

"ASU met Rooney's statements and insight into the cause of the numerous telephone violations with great hostility and condemnation of Rooney, and these statements - in material part - formed the basis of ASU's unlawful role in the prosecution of Rooney," the complaint states.

Rooney sued the NCAA, ASU, Bochi, and ASU Vice President of Athletics Lisa Love.

He seeks punitive damages for conspiracy, malicious prosecution, defamation, aiding and abetting malicious prosecution, interference with contract, aiding and abetting abuse of process, and violation of the First Amendment.

He is represented by Jonathan Dessaules.

Categories / Uncategorized

Subscribe to Closing Arguments

Sign up for new weekly newsletter Closing Arguments to get the latest about ongoing trials, major litigation and hot cases and rulings in courthouses around the U.S. and the world.