Arbitrator rules UConn coach Kevin Ollie improperly fired, owed $11 million

Kevin Ollie was fired as men's basketball coach after an investigation was launched into the team in 2018

An arbitrator has ruled that UConn improperly fired former men’s basketball coach Kevin Ollie and must pay him more than $11 million, Ollie’s lawyer said Thursday.

Attorney Jacques Parenteau called Thursday’s 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.

Connecticut head coach Kevin Ollie, left, talks with Connecticut’s Terry Larrier and Christian Vital, right, during an NCAA college basketball game, Wednesday, Feb. 7, 2018, in Storrs, Conn. (AP Photo/Jessica Hill, File)

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 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.”

“The arbitrator’s decision is nonsensical and seriously impedes the university’s ability to manage its athletics program,” the university said in a statement. “It also sends a signal to other coaches in Connecticut that they may ignore NCAA rules with impunity and continue to be employed and paid.”

Irvings ruled that Ollie is due $11,157,032.95 within the next 10 business days, Parenteau said.

The school did not say whether it would seek to have the award vacated, an outcome Parenteau said is extremely rare in these types of arbitrations.

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, issued a statement thanking his legal team and the union that supported him.

Connecticut coach Kevin Ollie speaks during a news conference ahead of a second-round men’s college basketball game in the NCAA Tournament in Des Moines, Iowa, March 18, 2016. (AP Photo/Nati Harnik, File)

“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.

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 comes 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.

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