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HOW THE UNIVERSITY OF MIAMI “KEPT THE DAMAGES LOW”


The University of Miami, after a long and possibly bumbled investigation by the NCAA, was hit with penalties this week due to a variety of violations, including “lack of institutional control.” Speculation about the ramifications of Miami’s actions had many people predicting they could receive the NCAA death penalty. In the end, the harshest of the penalties is the loss of three football scholarships a year for the next three years. In 2010, the University of Southern California was found to have committed similar violations and lost a total of 30 football scholarships (10 a year for three years), vacated over a year’s worth of wins and a National Championship title, received a two-year bowl ban, and their star player during the period of infractions, Reggie Bush, returned his Heisman Trophy (voluntarily). So why was Miami treated so differently? Because they cooperated, they admitted fault, and they proactively penalized themselves by sitting out the most recent two years of bowl games.

The Committee on Infractions chair for the NCAA called Miami’s self-imposed penalties “significant” and “unprecedented.” This is like a car company admitting it used cheap brake pads, then forfeiting most of their profits for a year, and then getting a slap on the wrist in damages for the accidents they caused. When you listen to jurors in mock trials or after actual trials, it’s hard not to be struck by how their level of outrage at a defendant’s actions strongly and positively correlates with damages. This is often why admitting liability, especially when you have good reason to believe that jurors will find you to be at fault, is a very effective way to keep juror anger from boiling over, and a good way to mitigate your damages. Jurors, like the NCAA, find it hard to be angry with someone who says, “I’m sorry.”

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