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Monday, August 15, 2005
Carnesecca takes stand in antitrust case

Associated Press

NEW YORK -- Hall of Fame coach Lou Carnesecca testified Monday in a dispute over whether the NCAA has tried to hurt the National Invitation Tournaments, drawing laughter from jurors and lawyers on both sides.

The gravel-voiced longtime St. John's coach recalled that there was a choice in the 1960s whether to go to the NCAA Tournament or the NIT. He said that option was gone by the 1980s.

"That choice was not there at all," he testified before a civil jury in U.S. District Court in Manhattan, where five New York schools that sponsor the NIT have accused the NCAA of antitrust violations.

Asked if he regretted his trips to the NCAA Tournament, he paused and said there were times "on second thought, after playing the first game, I'd wished I'd gone to the NIT."

Even NCAA lawyers laughed at the remark by the coach, who went 526-200 in 24 seasons, all of which ended with postseason appearances -- 18 in the NCAA Tournament and six in the NIT.

Carnesecca said he initially didn't know there was an NCAA rule requiring schools to accept invitations to its postseason basketball tournament over invitations to all others. He said he was told verbally by his superiors that the school, if invited, had to go to the NCAA Tournament.

"I'm a good soldier," he said. "I followed orders."

Under questioning by NCAA lawyer Gregory L. Curtner, Carnesecca conceded that being invited to the NCAA Tournament was "a wonderful thrill."

He said the popularity of the NCAA Tournament "really exploded" after Magic Johnson and Larry Bird faced off in the 1979 national final.

Johnson's Michigan State Spartans beat Bird's Indiana State team 75-64 as an estimated 40 million people watched on television.

Carnesecca said the players on the Final Four teams "really captured the imagination of the American public."

NIT lawyer Jeffrey Kessler also introduced evidence Monday to show that the NCAA in the 1950s was looking for ways to force schools to choose the NCAA over the NIT.

He showed the jury an excerpt from a 1957 NCAA basketball tournament committee meeting in which officials discussed warning nine schools that they would risk elimination from NCAA team events if they did not accept invitations to the NCAA Tournament.

Kessler has told the jury that the NCAA has tried to put the NIT out of business to protect billions of dollars in college basketball revenue -- 90 percent of its income.