Shook Team Secures Defense Verdict in 15-Year Litigation Saga

Suffolk County Superior Court, Massachusetts

Shook, Hardy & Bacon secured a jury verdict for the National Collegiate Athletic Association (NCAA) in a defamation trial stemming from a previous suit brought by University at Buffalo basketball coach Tim Cohane.

In the 1990s, Cohane was the head men’s basketball coach at the State University of New York at Buffalo, which self-reported several rules violations to the NCAA and Mid-Atlantic Conference (MAC) during the 1998-1999 season. After MAC and NCAA investigations and a hearing held by the NCAA’s Committee on Infractions (COI), COI found that Cohane had committed several “major violations” of NCAA bylaws, and in 2001, the NCAA’s Infractions Appeals Committee sustained the violations while significantly reducing the penalties.

Over the next 15 years, Cohane filed suits against the NCAA and MAC, as well as NCAA, MAC and university officials, over what he alleges was the unfairness of his infractions case and ensuing harm to his reputation. In 2015, Shook Of Counsel Bill Odle successfully convinced the U.S. Circuit Court of Appeals for the Second Circuit to affirm summary judgment in favor of the NCAA on Cohane’s Section 1983 procedural due process claims. 

Following a deposition in the federal district court litigation in that case, however, one NCAA volunteer/deponent provided the plaintiff with a copy of an internal NCAA memorandum written five years after Cohane’s infractions case, discussing proposed changes to NCAA appellate rules, and soon thereafter, Cohane used that memorandum as the basis for another lawsuit against the NCAA.  In a lawsuit filed in Massachusetts state court, Cohane asserted that six words in that 10-page 2006 memorandum defamed him.  A Massachusetts trial judge denied the NCAA’s motion for summary judgment, finding disputed issues of material fact.

On May 10, 2016, nearly 15 years after the NCAA found Cohane had violated NCAA bylaws, his defamation case went to trial in Boston.  After a week and a half of what the parties originally estimated to be a three-day trial, the jury returned a verdict for the NCAA.  Virtually all of the trial was spent on the plaintiff’s case; a combination of successful pretrial motions and effective cross-examination meant that the NCAA did not need to put on its own experts or mount an extensive defensive case. 

Timothy M. Cohane v. The National Collegiate Athletic Ass’n, Civil Action No. 13-1308A (Suffolk County Sup. Ct. , Mass 2013)