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UCF Lawsuit Invokes NCAA Infraction

The Orlando Sentinel is reporting that the family of Ereck Plancher is asking an appeals court to take note of Central Florida’s lack of institutional control charge from its 2012 major infractions case in their wrongful suit against UCF. The reason is not to show that UCF was negligent in Plancher’s death, but because of a debate over UCF’s liability under Florida law:

[UCF and its insurer] argued UCFAA should be treated as a state agency eligible for a settlement cap that limits payment of damages to $200,000. The balance would have to be approved by the state Legislature, action that is rarely taken because it is often viewed as an undue burden for taxpayers.

UCFAA is the UCF Athletics Association, classified under Florida law as a direct support organization, a separate nonprofit corporation which is “organized and operated exclusively to receive, hold, invest, and administer property and to make expenditures to or for the benefit of a state university in Florida.” Because UCFAA is a separate but closely related entity to UCF, there is a question of whether the cap applies to UCFAA.

UCFAA and its insurers argue that the athletics association falls under the cap because of the president’s control over the association as it chairman. Plancher’s family is countering with the NCAA’s ruling that around the time Plancher died, UCF lacked institutional control over its athletics department. If the appeals court accepts the family’s argument, it would weaken UCFAA’s case that it is part and parcel of the university and covered by the liability cap.

As Dennis Dodd notes, this would be ground breaking. We have recently seen what happens when the NCAA tries to rely on the judicial process too heavily to augment its investigative powers. This in a way would be the flip side of the coin, a court granting an NCAA decision much greater significance than it was ever intended. It would be one thing if a party in a lawsuit presented evidence the NCAA obtained and used in a case, to be weighed by a judge or jury. It is altogether a different matter if the NCAA’s conclusion of guilt or innocence is accepted as gospel by a court.

The most amazing part of the case is that UCFAA’s biggest objection is not on the grounds of how crazy it would be to allow an Indiana corporation to determine whether a Florida law applies to a Florida athletic department. Their biggest objection seems to be simply one of timing: that the NCAA’s decision came after the trial, and was not part of the family’s evidence at trial, and therefore cannot be raised on appeal, more or less a technicality.

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