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Viewpoint No turning back after Ollie’s accusations of racial discrimination

December 19, 2018

HARTFORD — UConn fired Kevin Ollie. Kevin Ollie fired back at UConn.

The NCAA accused Kevin Ollie of lying.

And now Ollie has accused the state’s flagship university of racial discrimination.

There’s really no looking back now.

You look back, UConn fans, and you turn into a pillar of salt the way Lot’s wife did in the Bible when she looked back at Sodom.

As an arbitration decision looms somewhere out there — Ollie will get all of his $11 million or none of it — the best thing is to keep looking ahead and walk away as quickly as possible from the Great Dumpster Fire.

We made only one promise that Saturday in March when UConn announced it was firing its basketball coach for “just cause.” We promised a bitter fight. We promised ugly.

In retrospect, we were guilty of understatement.

We were naive enough to believe the two sides could find a financial settlement. Jacobs, that silly, silly dreamer.

The search for justice in this case has long ago been forgotten. What’s left now is the search to hurt the other guy. In the fight to keep — or get — every last penny, everything and anything goes.

In an emergency injunction request Monday in U.S. District Court, Ollie claims UConn has illegally prevented him from filing a racial discrimination complaint.

That’s the logistical aspect. And as the day wore on and Ollie’s lawyer James Parenteau played this aspect up more and more to journalists. ESPN reported that Parenteau said the filing wasn’t about racial discrimination, it was about Ollie’s rights to proceed with both arbitration and federal cases.

“We’re not making any particular claim at this time and the fact of the matter is they don’t want Kevin to have these rights,” Parenteau told ESPN.

That part about rights may be true, but it’s not the heart of the matter. If Ollie and his lawyers were looking to do damage to UConn, whack at Jim Calhoun and to strain at the fabric of the basketball program and a diverse student body, well, they are positioning themselves to make the most incendiary move possible.

In the complaint it says, “In addition to terminating his employment without just cause in violation of the collective bargaining agreement, (UConn) has discriminated against (Ollie) on the basis of his race and color in violation of the federal state law, including Title VII of the Civil Rights Act of 1964 and the Connecticut Fair Employment Practices Act.”

It’s right there in black and white. You accused UConn of racial discrimination, Mr. Parenteau. And yes, we understand you are keeping your legal options open to pursue it or not. Still, the powerful words are there.

The complaint points to the “disparate treatment” that Ollie, a black male, received compared to Ollie’s former mentor Jim Calhoun, a white male.

From the complaint: “Jim Calhoun was found to have engaged in conduct in violation of NCAA rules and regulations following an investigation conducted by the NCAA and (UConn) in 2011 and 2012 that were more severe than the conduct which (UConn) has identified as the basis for its decision to terminate (Ollie’s) employment, but (UConn) never terminated the employment of Jim Calhoun. Indeed, (UConn) continued to employ Jim Calhoun and paid him $1.9 million between 2012 and September of 2018.”

In my mind, this is about the W’s and L’s and not about race. That’s Ollie’s best argument.

UConn will never admit it. Ollie got fired because he had done a lousy job for two years and there was little prospect of it getting better. Ollie will never admit he got lazy in recruiting, was doing a bad job and, frankly, deserved to get fired. That, however, does not negate the more than $10 million remaining on his contract.

There was specific language in Ollie’s contract allowing the school to fire him with just cause and, by the letter of the law, it sure looks like they nailed Ollie. The school found he committed infractions — not parking tickets, not the end of the world. In its investigation, the NCAA alleged that Ollie provided false and misleading information about instigating phone calls between Ray Allen/Rudy Gay and recruit Hamidou Diallo. The NCAA also alleges Ollie gave misleading information about players working with an outside trainer in Atlanta.

Charges of cover-up are usually worse than the crime. Don’t lie to the NCAA. As a result, it was raised Level One stuff for Ollie and that’s the level he doesn’t want to be. The NCAA hasn’t made its final ruling, but it looks bad for Ollie.

As far as arbitration, really, it has come down to this same point since March. Does the arbitrator honor the letter of the contract — made worse by the NCAA allegations? Or honor the spirit of the contract which historically wouldn’t have called for his firing for secondary violations.

In her letter to Ollie’s lawyers in the spring, UConn President Susan Herbst did insist she and former AD Warde Manuel required he keep the program out of the trouble Calhoun got it into. Their contracts also weren’t the same.

“It was precisely because of the circumstance under which you took over the men’s program that compelled (Manuel) and myself to each independently stress to you our expectation of rigorous compliance,” Herbst wrote. “None (of the other coaches) were given the same specific direction upon their hire that Mr. Manuel and I gave you.”

Ollie’s lawyers claim UConn has prevented them from making a racial discrimination case based on a provision in the collective bargaining agreement with Ollie’s union that would allow UConn to end the arbitration proceedings if they went that route. The statute of limitations for filing has come into play and Ollie’s lawyers want the right to go for a discrimination case after arbitration.

These are tense and combustible times in our history.

All of the Huskies’ scholarship players are black. Most were recruited by Ollie. These are young, prideful men. That youth and that pride is to be respected. What if some of them decide that, yes, there is something to Ollie’s claims?

“I don’t know nothing about that,” Jalen Adams, the team’s leading scorer, said Tuesday night after UConn defeated Drexel 97-65 at the XL Center.

How much national media focus Ollie’s assertions of racial discrimination get certainly will have a role. Whether community and national black leaders chose to get involved will be a factor, too. It would be a mistake to pooh-pooh these charges out of hand. It could damage recruiting. It could damage the state university’s reputation.

After the blow delivered by the NCAA, the claims smack of desperation. If Ollie has more than “Calhoun didn’t get fired and I did,” those racial claims should be delivered with careful specifics and be examined with great dignity in the full light of day. If the claims prove to be frivolous, however, Ollie will be seen as a man willing to do anything to get his money. His reputation will take a hit much bigger than losing one coaching job.

jeff.jacobs@hearstmediact.com; @jeffjacobs123

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