A fairy-tale ending in the feud between UConn and former men’s basketball head coach Kevin Ollie would pay Ollie between half of the $10 million contract he is owed and use the remaining $5 million to seed the Kevin Ollie Academy, a new elementary school in Hartford.
This result would recognize Ollie’s contribution to the UConn basketball narrative, pay Ollie some of what he bargained for, benefit the community, and allow both sides to save face.
Imagine a brokered truce where Jim Calhoun, Ray Allen and Ollie break ground with silver shovels much in the same way George Steinbrenner kissed the World Series rings at Yogi Berra’s Museum on the campus of Montclair State University in Montclair, New Jersey.
For 14 years, Yogi’s honor and integrity kept him from the Stadium when the Boss fired him after a 6-10 start to the season in 1984.
Here, the positions are similar: UConn says it fired Ollie for violating the rules. Ollie claims UConn manufactured a scandal once his teams started to lose, and his alma mater has now besmirched his reputation.
The institutional perspective hardly merits a second look: after coaching the Huskies to a national title with recruits brought to Storrs by Calhoun, Ollie stunk, so UConn found a way to say goodbye.
More nuance and social justice supports Ollie’s posture. Consider Ollie as a high school junior in 1989, when a nascent Calhoun, fresh off his first NIT title, drops by the gym at Crenshaw High in Los Angeles and asks Ollie to come play in the planned Gampel Pavilion.
Ollie signs on the dotted line, and helps build Calhoun’s legend. It is fair to think that as Ollie labored through his professional basketball career, he concluded UConn should have paid him and his peers like Ray Allen.
Respect what a valuable asset in Calhoun’s portfolio Ollie represented from 1991 to 1995. For 124 games, Ollie’s sweat and toil helped Calhoun construct a winning reputation.
During Ollie’s career, UConn went to the NCAA, then the NIT and then the Sweet Sixteen his junior year. His senior year in 1995, UConn won the regular season Big East title, and made it to Calhoun’s first Big East Tournament final. The Huskies lost that game, but Calhoun rode Ollie and his passes to Allen to Calhoun’s second Elite Eight berth.
Ollie’s last deep run through the brackets provided Calhoun the cred to land recruits like Richard Hamilton, Kevin Freeman and Jake Voshkul, who would win Calhoun his first national title in 1999.
Ollie brought millions to UConn before he ever graduated, yet he only walked away with a bachelor’s degree in Communications and a minor-league basketball contract. Sure, Ollie is grateful for the experience, but he knows he made a lot of people a lot of money that he never touched.
He may never say it, but his heart likely aches with the truth as written by The New York Times’ William Rhoden: Ollie was a $40 million slave. Ollie knows Calhoun, UConn, and the NCAA Division I system used him for profit and cared nothing for him both as a student and as a coach.
Allen was more tactful on August 2 when he said: “We know who Kevin is, we know what he’s done for the state and they need to make it right by him.”
Should Ollie’s legal team seed this kind of argument to a state court jury in Hartford, more likely to have people who look like Ollie, he could win big. Like Berra, Ollie feels his honor is at stake. Does Ollie still have any obligation to the people of the state that have treated him so roughly? Probably not.
But Ollie’s position comes with risk, too. If he did break the rules, manufactured as the violations may be, he could lose everything.
Both sides gamble so many ways if this continues to trial. The Attorney General has an endless well of resources and will fight Ollie if UConn does not want to give Ollie a dime back.
The idea of $10 million going to a fired basketball coach hurts many fiscal worrywarts in our debt-strapped state.
We do not know the status of settlement negotiations and the opening offers, or if they have begun to talk at all. Is Ollie at $12 million and is the state at its standard $5,000 starting offer?
Wherever they are now, let’s cut to the chase. As a lawyer, I would tell my client if I could get 50 percent of the contract and legal fees without risking trial right now, he should take it and walk away.
While Ollie is not as rich as Lebron James, who just built a public school in Akron, Ohio, the example exists for Ollie to entertain such noblesse oblige and charity.
Let’s end the drama: the Attorney General should sit with his client and Madsen Prestley and Parenteau should sit with theirs and consider a settlement: UConn will pay Ollie $5 million and his legal fees, and the other $5 million of the contract will build a school in Hartford.
Imagine other UConn NBA stars like Allen and Hamilton and Ben Gordon chip in, too, and we have a $20 million new educational facility: the Kevin Ollie Academy.
We can conclude this unhappy episode with a resounding recognition that college athletics exist to reinforce academics, and not the other way around, and everyone walks away with a victory.
Ken Krayeske is an attorney in Hartford.
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