The University of Connecticut must pay a former men’s basketball coach, Kevin Ollie, more than $11 million in the next 10 business days for improperly firing him, an arbitrator ruled on Thursday.
Ollie was fired in March 2018, as the N.C.A.A. was investigating recruiting violations within his program that were reported by the university. He filed a grievance for the remaining money on his contract and eventually became the coach and director of player development for Overtime Elite, a new professional league for high school-age players who earn salaries and thus forfeit their eligibility to play college basketball.
A lawyer for Ollie, Jacques Parenteau, called the ruling from the arbitrator, Mark Irvings, a “total vindication” for Ollie.
Ollie, 49, played for Connecticut and in the N.B.A., and coached the Huskies from 2012-18 after succeeding his former coach, the Naismith Hall of Famer Jim Calhoun. He led the Huskies to the 2014 N.C.A.A. championship but made just one N.C.A.A. tournament appearance after that and finished 127-79 in six seasons.
The program’s victories and records from the 2016-17 and 2017-18 seasons have since been vacated. The N.C.A.A. in 2019 placed Connecticut on probation for two years and found that Ollie had violated rules by holding unsanctioned team activities during the summer, allowing players to have workouts with a trainer without permission, and letting a video coordinator handle coaching duties. Ollie also arranged for a phone call between a recruit and Ray Allen, the N.B.A. player who had been one of the Huskies’ top stars, the N.C.A.A. said. Ollie did not deny that the phone call happened but said it was unplanned.
The N.C.A.A.’s investigation found that Ollie had neither properly monitored the program nor promoted an atmosphere of compliance with the rules. Connecticut lost a scholarship for the 2019-20 recruiting class, was given two years’ probation and was fined $5,000.
Ollie in his grievance alleged “disparate treatment,” arguing that Calhoun was not fired despite his own N.C.A.A. violations and that the university supported Calhoun despite his infractions.
In a statement, Ollie said he was “pleased” with the decision, and added that the university and its community would “always have a special place in my heart and will always be a part of my family.”
Parenteau said the arbitrator’s ruling showed that the N.C.A.A.’s punishments were “erroneous and unfounded.”
A spokeswoman for the university, Stephanie Reitz, said in a statement that the ruling was “nonsensical and seriously impedes the University’s ability to manage its athletics program.”
Reitz said that UConn “did not have the luxury” of waiting a year to fire Ollie when it became aware of his violations of recruiting rules.
The ruling “also sends a signal to other coaches in Connecticut that they may ignore NCAA rules with impunity and continue to be employed and paid,” Reitz added.
Dan Hurley, the current UConn men’s basketball coach whose team is on track to return to the N.C.A.A. tournament for a second straight year, told reporters after his team’s game on Thursday that the program was anxious to leave Ollie’s saga behind them.
“You just hope that everyone can move on, at this point,” Hurley said, according to the Connecticut Post.