AAU coach sues NCAA for discrimination following felony ban

Cameron Smith
Prep Rally

The NCAA is often criticized for its lack of flexibility in dealing with standardized procedures regarding student athletes. Now its being taken to court by a coach who doesn't even lead a collegiate team, thanks to a policy it enacted governing NCAA-sanctioned summer basketball events.

Team Concept coach Michael Abraham
Team Concept coach Michael Abraham

According to the Portland Oregonian, Team Concept AAU head coach Michael Abraham has filed a $220,000 suit against the NCAA, alleging that a new rule which forbids anyone who has been convicted of a felony from coaching in NCAA-sanctioned summer-league events discriminates against those with a criminal record.

The suit claims that Abraham -- whose Team Concept program has helped develop a number of NCAA girls basketball players -- clearly poses no risk to athletes or other coaches, in part because he has led teams at different NCAA-sanctioned events for years. In the past, Abraham was allowed to coach in any NCAA-affiliated events because his felonious past -- connected to a cocaine conspiracy from his time as an addict -- was not classified as a "violent felony," which were the only violations for which a coach could be banned from participation.

That all changed in January, when the NCAA expanded its felony exclusion rule, making Abraham ineligible and de-certifying him as an NCAA-sanctioned coach. Team Concept's top assistant coach resigned shortly thereafter, and the lawsuit filed against the NCAA claims that other programs have been actively poaching the AAU team's top players since Abraham's de-certification.

While the word "felony" might seem to put the NCAA on a moral high ground, Abraham has a number of different factors in his favor in the suit. Not only was he involved in a non-violent felony, the coach said he has been sober since the mid-1990s and later spent 18 months in prison for his connections with the aforementioned conspiracy, a story which was chronicled at length in the Oregonian in 2000.

Because he has already served his time -- and because his felony was non-violent -- Abraham's suit cites a title of the Civil Rights Act, which claims the NCAA is violating a tenet which requires organizations to consider the nature of a crime and time since conviction. Clearly, the new NCAA rule doesn't meet those conditions, which could make the coming court case between Abraham and the organization a battle over whether Abraham has a right to participate in NCAA-sanctioned events, or whether such standing is simply a granted privilege.

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