Ollie did enough wrong to warrant his firing by UConn
Straight up: The University of Connecticut didn’t merely hire Kevin Ollie to coach men’s basketball.
University officials brought him here to clean up Jim Calhoun’s debris, lest we forget that UConn was ineligible for the postseason during Ollie’s first year, the residual effect of NCAA violations from Calhoun’s regime.
And now we discover that Ollie betrayed the conditions of his employment — originally and always tethered to compliance.
Hearst Connecticut Media and other news outlets unearthed details Wednesday of violations during Ollie’s tenure that led to his dismissal on March 10. UConn president Susan Herbst has upheld Ollie’s termination as the case, to determine whether the university owes Ollie another dime, heads to arbitration.
News reports, based on Freedom of Information Act findings, detail the letter athletic director David Benedict sent to Ollie on March 10, specifying Ollie’s “failure to promote compliance, failure to timely report instances of non-compliance, intentional participation in impermissible on-campus activity with a prospective student-athlete and a representative of the University’s athletic interests for recruiting purposes.”
Later, Benedict wrote, “At the time of your hire, the importance of absolute compliance in running our men’s basketball program was stressed to you by President Herbst and then-athletic director Warde Manuel. That makes the violations … all the more troubling.”
Note the wording. “The importance of absolute compliance” should go without saying for any coach on any campus. The language, however, suggests that compliance was a major issue for UConn at the time and must be specifically addressed.
In the absence of truth, speculation and presumption have filled in the blanks for a while on Ollie’s specific transgressions and what’s owed him. We arrived closer to the truth Wednesday when details became public.
The two-minute drill version:
Ollie was part of a shootaround with a potential recruit (James Akinjo) on an official visit, allegedly prearranged a phone call between a potential recruit and former UConn great Ray Allen (whom the NCAA considers a “booster”) and allowed his players to train with friend Derek Hamilton in 2015-16. The players not only worked out on and off campus, but some traveled to Atlanta, where they were flown, fed and stayed for free.
They are all NCAA violations to varying degrees.
Pause here for a reminder: Whether we agree or disagree with the content, scope, application and spirit of NCAA rules is irrelevant. Such stories often produce tangential rants about the NCAA’s obtuseness that often hijacks the original point. Which is this: They were/are the rules in place. And Ollie violated them.
Ollie’s defense is coming from Michael Bailey, director of the UConn chapter of the American Association of University Professors. Professor Bailey accused UConn of applying a double standard.
“To falsely claim ‘just cause’ exists for alleged NCAA infractions in order to avoid paying a debt that is due to coach Ollie exposes the hypocrisy of the University’s treatment of coach Ollie,” the AAUP letter stated.
Professor Bailey cited infractions in other programs that did not result in other coaches’ firings, including Calhoun.
Essentially, Bailey suggests UConn is going to unfair lengths to avoid paying Ollie to leave, while committing institutional hypocrisy to do so.
It would be naïve to believe UConn’s aim for truth and justice are bathed in idealism and not about the money. It’s always about the money. In this case, though, Ollie may have stepped in just enough quicksand to sink.
I asked some attorneys Thursday, some of whom have experience with labor law, if UConn’s appearance of past inconsistency within its termination policies has relevance to Ollie’s case.
There was not universal agreement, except to the following point: Past practices bear enough relevance within arbitration settings to get Ollie at least some money. It is unlikely he’ll get near the $10 million remaining on his contract. But he’ll get something.
Does he deserve it? A better question. His stubbornness, declining won-loss record, failure to foster meaningful relationships with enough of his players and standoffishness with the media are the appetizers for the entrée: He was entrusted to stay within the rules. The evidence suggests he did not. And that’s just not acceptable.
Again: I’m not naïve enough to think there wasn’t a day when young, talented high school basketball players gravitated toward Storrs, CT just because the ice cream was good at the Dairy Bar. I’m sure rules were bent, just as they are everywhere else. Besides, staying in bounds 100 percent of the time is a good way to finish 10-20 every year.
But this was a long established program under Calhoun when Ollie arrived. An occasional minor violation in the name of maintaining competitiveness ? The way of the world now.
UConn men’s basketball deserved better than the effort Kevin Ollie gave it.
This is the opinion of Day sports columnist Mike DiMauro.
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