By State Senator Douglas McCrory
The University of Connecticut has a coaching contract with former men’s basketball coach Kevin Ollie, and despite their ongoing disagreement, it is way past time for the school to live up to its obligations to pay Coach Ollie the money it owes him.
This issue is bigger than basketball, it’s bigger than Ollie’s win-loss record at UConn, and it is bigger than UConn itself. In this matter, UConn represents all of Connecticut, and in this matter UConn is creating the impression that Connecticut and its people do not stand behind the agreements they make. And that is a terrible mistake.
Kevin Ollie came to Connecticut to play basketball at UConn when he was 18 years old. He was raised in Texas and south central Los Angeles, but he made Connecticut his home. Kevin Ollie contributed mightily to the UConn community, and he continues to do so even as the school won a national championship shows him no loyalty in return.
Many of the young men who decide to play basketball at UConn come from some of the most financially and socially challenging neighborhoods in America. Many view their coach like a father figure.
So it’s important to remember that when Kevin Ollie took over the UConn men’s basketball program, it had been hamstrung by years of disgraceful “graduation success rates” (student athletes graduating within six years of entering a program) of 8 percent, 17 percent, and 20 percent – the lowest graduation rates in NCAA Division I basketball. But by 2017, Coach Ollie had more than tripled the UConn men’s GSR to 67 percent. By 2018, Ollie had also helped the men’s basketball program achieve an Academic Progress Rate of 995, far above the 930 threshold that brings NCAA penalties. The national men’s basketball APR average is 967.
I’m a father. I played college basketball on a scholarship, and I have two master’s degrees. But if my son or daughter were to play college basketball, I’d demand that they also receive a college education as well. That’s what Kevin Ollie has done, and that’s where Kevin Ollie truly set himself apart from others. He is the embodiment of UConn’s academic aspirations and of every parent’s hope for what their child can be.
It’s also important to note that UConn’s decision to deny Coach Ollie the severance package he is entitled to comes less than two years after school administrators faced heavy public criticism for paying former football coach Bob Diaco and his staff more than $5 million after ending their contracts early after three losing seasons. UConn is now trying to avoid a similar public relations disaster by changing the rules mid-game on Coach Ollie, but in doing so UConn has created a new public relations nightmare that threatens the school’s reputation and Connecticut’s reputation as well.
To justify their unfair treatment of Ollie, UConn has cited four alleged NCAA recruiting violations. But even the NCAA has not yet determined if any violations occurred, or if those violations would rise to the level of termination.
One of the alleged violations is trivial: during a visit to the UConn campus by a high school recruit, Ollie and the prospect walked across Gampel Pavilion on the way to lunch, picked up some basketballs, and took a few shots. If this is a rules violation, the rule itself is unjust.
But this is the type of the accusation that UConn is relying on in its contract dispute with Kevin Ollie. This is how UConn treats its alumni and staff when it comes down to money. Kevin Ollie has been a solid UConn citizen since his playing days. On and off the court he has given 110 percent to the university and, by extension, to the state of Connecticut.
It’s unquestioned that Kevin Ollie has done a lot of good for the UConn men’s basketball team and the State of Connecticut. Now it’s time for UConn to recognize that good work, drop this charade of a ‘just cause’ firing, and live up to its moral and financial obligations to Coach Ollie. The state of Connecticut and UConn will be better off in the long run learning from his example, instead of using him as a scapegoat.
Connecticut State Senator Douglas McCrory represents Hartford, Bloomfield and Windsor.