Days after an arbitrator ruled that UConn improperly fired former men’s basketball coach Kevin Ollie and must pay him more than $11 million, the university said it has complied and expects Ollie’s attorneys to receive the funds today.
Attorney Jacques Parenteau previously called the January ruling from arbitrator Mark Irvings a “total vindication” for Ollie, who was fired in the spring of 2018 after the school reported it was investigating numerous potential NCAA violations in his program.
In 2019, the NCAA placed UConn on probation for two years and Ollie was sanctioned individually for violations, which the NCAA found occurred between 2013 and 2018.
Parenteau said the arbitrator’s ruling shows that decision by the NCAA was “erroneous and unfounded.”
“This arbitration clearly established — after 33 days of hearings and the testimony and cross examination of actual witnesses under oath — that Kevin Ollie did not violate the NCAA rules that were used to justify the draconian sanctions imposed on him,” Parenteau and co-counsel William Madsen said in a prior statement. “The Arbitrator correctly found that there was no just cause to terminate Kevin Ollie’s employment as the head coach of an NCAA basketball team.”
But the school said the ruling stated only that UConn should have waited for the NCAA’s decision before firing Ollie and said it strongly disagrees with that decision, saying it did not have “the luxury of waiting more than a year before terminating Ollie for the misconduct the university was aware he had engaged in.”
UConn said in a statement Tuesday that the “arbitrator in this case agreed that UConn had just cause to terminate Ollie for NCAA rules violations, noting that ‘the ultimate NCAA finding represented serious noncompliance with NCAA rules and regulations.’ However, the arbitrator determined that UConn should have waited for the NCAA’s own process to conclude before terminating Ollie.”
Irvings ruled that Ollie was due $11,157,032.95, according to Parenteau.
UConn said the university has serious concerns about how the ruling “impacts UConn’s proactive efforts to run a program with integrity and in full NCAA compliance,” that all the coaches have employment contracts detailing their compliance obligations and the “arbitrator’s reliance on the collective bargaining agreement in this case, rather than the contract, undercuts that effort.”
However, UConn said, it is in the best interest of UConn and the men’s basketball program to move on, the university plans no further legal action in the case and considers the matter closed.
Ollie, a former UConn point guard who guided the Huskies to a 127-79 record and the 2014 national championship in six seasons as head coach, previously issued a statement thanking his legal team and the union that supported him.
“In closing, I wish to assure the University of Connecticut community, my alma mater and an institution that has meant so much to me over the years, that the University will always have a special place in my heart and will always be a part of my family,” he said.
Parenteau and Madsen had argued that UConn failed to meet its burden under an agreement between the school and the American Association of University Professors, of which Ollie was a member. That agreement required a showing of serious misconduct in order to fire an employee for “just cause” and also afforded Ollie other union protections.
The school had argued that Ollie’s transgressions were serious and that his individual contract superseded those union protections.
“While UConn is proud of its long history of success in basketball, what is always most important to the university, its coaches, student-athletes, and fans is the present and the future. UConn is thrilled to be back in the Big East and to have its men’s basketball program ranked in the top 20. The university looks forward to the rest of this basketball season and to what the future holds for this strong team and legendary program,” UConn said in a statement Tuesday.
Ollie, who faced three years of restrictions from the NCAA on becoming a college basketball coach again, is currently coaching for Overtime Elite, a league that prepares top prospects who are not attending college for the pros.
The ruling came almost exactly a year after the original arbitrator appointed to the case died. It also came a day after UConn’s athletic department reported that its budget deficit rose from $43.5 million to $47.2 million in the 2021 fiscal year.