COLUMBUS, Ohio -- Even though former basketball coach Jim
O'Brien broke NCAA rules by giving money to a recruit, a judge
ruled Wednesday that Ohio State must pay O'Brien $2.2 million plus
interest because it failed to follow the terms of his contract.
"It is clear that this seemingly unfair result arises from the
extremely favorable provisions of the contract," Ohio Court of
Claims Judge Joseph T. Clark wrote in his decision.
O'Brien, fired in June of 2004, had asked for at least $3.6
million. Ohio State said it didn't owe him any money because he
gave $6,000 to recruit Aleksandar Radojevic, lied about it and
tried to cover it up.
Clark said in his opinion that Ohio State was victimized by a
contract that heavily favored the ex-coach. Under the contract --
drafted by university lawyers in an attempt to keep O'Brien as the
Buckeyes coach -- Ohio State needed to follow a strict firing
procedure even if O'Brien violated NCAA rules.
"The contract is extremely favorable to the plaintiff but it is
not unreasonable," Clark said in his decision. "The parties in
this case negotiated a contract virtually guaranteeing [O'Brien]
that he could not be terminated for an NCAA infraction."
Ohio State officials said they would appeal the decision.
"We continue to believe that the university acted appropriately
in dismissing coach O'Brien," Ohio State vice president and
general counsel Christopher M. Culley said in a statement. "The
NCAA sanctions that followed the court's initial decision in
February 2006 validated the serious nature of the violations."
The award caps more than two years of controversy at Ohio State,
which was given three years of probation by the NCAA last March.
The 56-year-old O'Brien, who coached the Buckeyes for seven
years and took them to the Final Four in 1999, was fired in June
2004 after revealing to then-athletic director Andy Geiger that he
had given the money to Radojevic, a 7-foot-3 Serbian prospect.
The NCAA ruled the university must erase all references to its
trip to the Final Four in 1999 and repay some $800,000 in
tournament revenue from 1998-2002. It also determined that another
Ohio State player, Boban Savovic, was ineligible for receiving
O'Brien charged that the university did not follow his contract
in releasing him. Judge Clark agreed, ruling in February that
O'Brien broke his contract by giving the money and failing to
inform university officials, but the error was not serious enough
to warrant firing. The university violated the contract by firing
him without compensation, the ruling said.
Clark did limit the amount of money awarded O'Brien because the
coach's NCAA violations would have prevented him from receiving two
extra years on his contract for winning Big Ten titles in 2000 and
Joseph Murray, O'Brien's lead attorney, said he did not have an
O'Brien coached the Buckeyes to a 133-88 record that included
two Big Ten titles and a conference tournament title. He said he
gave the money to Radojevic in 1999 because the player's father was
dying and the family was unable to pay for medicine or a funeral.
Geiger didn't find out about the payment for more than five
years. In that time, Radojevic had been ruled ineligible by the
NCAA for accepting $9,000 to play in his native Yugoslavia. Ohio
State then appealed to the NCAA to restore Radojevic's eligibility
-- with O'Brien not mentioning the payment during the lengthy appeal
The appeal also was turned down and Radojevic never played for