Ohio State ordered to pay O’Brien $2 million
Columbus, OH (Sports Network) – Former Ohio State men’s basketball coach Jim
O’Brien was awarded more than $2 million in damages from a judge who said the
school did not have sufficient cause to fire the coach without compensation in
Then-Ohio State athletic director Andy Geiger dismissed O’Brien after the
coach admitted to loaning a recruit’s family $6,000. O’Brien then sued the
school for $3.5 million.
Judge Joseph Clark, in the Ohio Court of Claims, ruled in February that
O’Brien had breached his contract by giving out the loan, but that the single
incident was isolated and not severe enough for termination.
“The evidence shows that the violation consists of a loan made to the family
of a prospect for humanitarian reasons,” Clark wrote in his February 15
decision. “The evidence also demonstrates that such prospect was ineligible to
participate in intercollegiate athletics at the time that the loan was made.
“Although plaintiff [O’Brien] breached his contract by making the loan under
these circumstances, the court is persuaded, given the contract language, that
this single, isolated failure of performance was not so egregious as to
frustrate the essential purpose of that contract and thus render future
performance by the defendant [Ohio State] impossible.
“Because the breach by plaintiff was not a material breach, defendant did not
have cause to terminate plaintiff’s employment. Defendant’s decision to do so
without any compensation to plaintiff was a breach of the parties’ agreement.”
Ohio State is expected to appeal the monetary award.
“We continue to believe that the university acted appropriately in dismissing
Coach O’Brien,” said Ohio State vice president and general counsel Christopher
M. Culley in a Wednesday release on the school’s website.
“The NCAA sanctions that followed the court’s initial decision in February
2006 validated the serious nature of the violations and reinforced to us that
we took the appropriate action in terminating his contract. Ohio State is
committed to maintaining the highest possible standards for its
intercollegiate athletics programs. We expect that the court’s decision, when
finalized, will be appealed.”
In March of 2006, Ohio State was placed on three years’ probation by the NCAA
for violations, including those during O’Brien’s tenure.
O’Brien spent seven years with Ohio State and compiled a record of 133-88. The
Buckeyes shared the Big Ten regular season title in 1999-2000 and 2001-02, and
reached the Final Four in 1999 under O’Brien.
The case stems from 1998 when O’Brien was attempting to recruit Aleksander
Radojevic from Serbia. Later that year, O’Brien learned that Radojevic’s
mother was having financial trouble following the death of Radojevic’s father,
prompting O’Brien to send the loan.
Radojevic was later declared ineligible and never played for the Buckeyes.
During the lawsuit, O’Brien admitted to informing Geiger about the loan in
April of 2004. Then, in June, O’Brien was notified by Geiger of his firing.
O’Brien was given the choice to resign, but he refused. He had five years left
on his contract that would have paid him $864,000 per year.