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Saturday, May 28, 2022

Inside an arbitrator’s decision to award Kevin Ollie $11 million from UConn

In the battle between UConn and former men’s basketball coach Kevin Ollie, the $11 million decision was resounding.

Arbitrator Mark L. Irvings didn’t just side with Ollie, his ruling that was issued Thursday came down hard on the University of Connecticut and laid out why the dismissal of its former basketball coach for “just cause” violated the school’s collective bargaining agreement with the union that protected Ollie.

So UConn, whose athletic department reported a $47.2 million revenue gap for the last fiscal year, is on the hook for an $11 million payout. The school’s reaction? A statement calling the arbitrator’s decision “nonsensical.”

The 69-page ruling had been nearly four years in the making. The wide-ranging document covered everything from allegations made in an NCAA investigation of the men’s program that included recruiting practices to the prior violations committed under Jim Calhoun and Geno Auriemma.

Here is what stood out:

START WITH THE MONEY: WHY $11,157,032.95?

Irvings concludes UConn did not demonstrate Ollie was fired in March 2018 for just cause, thus he is due the remaining of the base compensation on his contract ($1,157,032.95) along with the remaining media fees due ($9.4 million). That amounts to $10,557,032.95.

The additional $600,000 is deferred compensation. The sides disagreed on that — the UConn Chapter of the American Association of University Professors argued Ollie was owed an addition $1 million based on the timing of the termination and the details of Ollie’s Individual Employment Agreement (IEA). UConn, citing the terms of Ollie’s contract, said $600,000 was due.

In this case, Irving sided with UConn and Ollie’s deferred compensation was $600,000 and the school was left with the $11,157,032.95 bill.

UConn has 10 business days from Thursday to pay up.

SOME BOLD-FACE NAMES: CALHOUN, AURIEMMA … URBAN MEYER

While UConn justified the firing by citing self-reported violations that resulted in a 2019 NCAA ruling that put the program on probation, Irvings’ report paints a different picture while using some prominent names for comparison.

A section on page 64 states “Ollie’s Punishment was Arbitrary, Capricious, and Disparate” and describes “scattered, low-level NCAA violations” that were comparable in “number and frequency to other major athletic programs at the institution.”

“Between 2012 and 2018, Men’s Basketball had 13 Level III violations, including one self-report,” Irvings writes. “During the same period, Geno Auriemma’s Women’s Basketball program had 11 Level III violations that included two-self reports. The football program had nine Level III violations and four self-reports.

“Neither Auriemma nor leaders in the football program received discipline for these infractions. Conduct similar to what occurred at UConn had happened at other institutions without penalty for the head coach.”

The report goes on to reference Urban Meyer, cited for a Level III violation at Ohio State, after arranging a call between a prospect and Tim Tebow, his former quarterback at Florida.

“At UConn, just a few months after Ollie’s firing Geno Auriemma arranged for NBA star Kyrie Irving to visit his house while recruits for the women’s team were present,” Irvings writes. “Pursuant to the NCAA’s direction, (UConn’s director of compliance) issued Auriemma a Letter of Admonishment, but no discipline followed.”

The phone call theme is relevant — the NCAA cited Ollie for setting up a phone call between a recruit and Ray Allen, who is deemed a booster for the program.

Finally, the report mentions the 2011 Level I infractions committed under Jim Calhoun. The violations involved “more than 2,000 impermissible calls and text messages with a professional player representative and more than $8,000 in impermissible benefits were provided by the representative to a prized UConn recruit.”

Irvings writes that UConn addressed the matter internally with a Letter of Admonishment to Calhoun, who was later disciplined by the NCAA with a three-game suspension. Later, UConn was banned from postseason play for one year because of “poor academic performance while Calhoun was in charge.”

The ruling said: “Calhoun voluntarily retired as head coach after the basketball season in the year after sanctions were levied and health issues intervened, and the University honored his contract by retaining his services for six more years at a cost of more than three million dollars.”

SPEAKING OF CALHOUN …

Ollie’s former mentor and coach was mentioned frequently in the report. Irvings writes that Calhoun’s contract left him open to termination for just cause, given the infractions that occurred under his watch. That would have relieved UConn of providing Calhoun with “lucrative post-retirement sinecures.”

UConn had countered that the comparison was moot because neither then-president Susan Herbst nor athletic director David Benedict were in charge when Calhoun’s infractions occurred.

“It is true that Herbst came to UConn a few months later, but nothing stopped her from seeking to void Calhoun’s IEA after the team was notified in 2012 that it would be banned from post-season tournaments because under Calhoun’s stewardship the team had failed to meet required academic standards,” the ruling says. “Further, to the extent the administration felt free to reach back years to harvest minor violations allegedly committed by Ollie, such a harvest would have been far more bountiful concerning Calhoun personally and his failure to monitor the program.”

Earlier in the report, Irvings writes that former athletic director Warde Manuel hired Ollie for his “commitment to academic achievement for scholar athletes and for his focus on compliance — a sentiment that was reinforced by President Herbst.”

Ollie, of course, replaced Calhoun and inherited a program punished for academic issues.

OLLIE’S FILE? MOSTLY CLEAN

The rule states Ollie received a letter from Manuel during his first year as head coach that cited minor recruiting days violation, but UConn did not take disciplinary action. In fact, Manuel “wasn’t concerned” about the infraction.

Ollie, according to the report, never received a letter of admonishment or discipline over his seven years as coach prior to his termination.

The ruling also says Ollie made his staff available for training on NCAA regulation. That came from the compliance staff.

“Men’s Basketball program staff agreed that Ollie made compliance a regular meeting agenda item and was diligent in making staff aware of requirements and encouraging staff to contact the Compliance Office for guidance,” the report said. “Ollie also relied on the Compliance Office for support and guidance. Compliance staff were frequently present in the Werth Center for practices and program activities, and at games at the Gampel Pavilion on campus, the XL Center in Hartford, and even on the road at away games.”

AND ABOUT THE NCAA REPORT …

A section on page 37 sums up best how Irvings views the use of the NCAA report by UConn: “Irrelevance of NCAA Investigation and Sanctioning Process.”

At the heart of the argument is the timing.

“UConn could not have based its discipline against Ollie on the NCAA findings because on March 10, 2018, the NCAA proceeding was still in its investigatory stage,” Irvings writes. “The NCAA did not proffer its Notice of Allegations until September 2018 and its decision was not issued until July 2019, about 16 months after the measuring date for the validity of UConn’s decision.”

The ruling also says the NCAA proceedings are not relevant because the organization’s enforcement staff does not take testimony under oath and there is no cross-examination. “Cross-examination has long been recognized as an essential element of due process because it has the salutary effect of incentivizing witnesses to not make unsubstantiated or exaggerated claims, and it serves the purpose of clarifying ambiguities or exposing bias and incapacity.”

And the example of unsubstantiated claims? Former UConn assistant coach Glen Miller, who talked to the NCAA for its investigation of violations under Ollie.

“When one reads the interview of Glen Miller, it is apparent that the enforcement staff was not focused on getting reliable evidence but rather on proving violations were committed by Ollie,” Irvings writes. “At various times Miller denied actual knowledge or equivocated about statements, but the staff repeatedly pressed him to finally make a definitive claim. The enforcement staff did not engage in a serious and critical analysis designed to test Miller’s motivation for providing damaging accusations about Ollie.”

Miller alleged that Ollie’s friend Derek Hamilton worked with players on the side, but the ruling says that’s an assertion that “not a single player, coach, or team manager corroborated — Miller repeatedly violated his obligation to notify the Compliance Office. Rather than fairly evaluate Miller’s credibility… the NCAA gave Miller blanket immunity for any violation he may have committed.”

paul.doyle@hearstmediact.com

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