Geiger: O'Brien committed 'clear violation'
COLUMBUS, Ohio -- The Ohio State athletic director who fired Jim O'Brien testified Tuesday that the basketball coach acknowledged he violated NCAA rules by giving a $6,000 loan to a potential recruit.
O'Brien denies the charge made by retired AD Andy Geiger, saying he never told Geiger he broke NCAA bylaws. O'Brien argues the loan of his own money was not a violation because he knew Aleksandar Radojevic, a 7-foot-3 prospect from Serbia, already had lost his amateur status by playing professionally.
David Swank, the former chairman of the NCAA's committee on infractions, later testified that he agreed O'Brien did not break any rules when he gave the money to Radojevic.
O'Brien, who coached the Buckeyes to a 133-88 record that included two Big Ten titles and a Final Four berth in seven seasons, is suing in the Ohio Court of Claims for $3.5 million in back pay and benefits. The judgment could grow by millions if interest and other damages are awarded.
Geiger testified he first learned of the money when he spoke briefly with O'Brien in April 2004.
"He wanted me to know what he had done," Geiger said. "First of all, he said he committed a violation. Secondly, he gave the money to a prospective student-athlete."
Six weeks later, Geiger fired O'Brien. In his lawsuit, O'Brien contends he was fired before an investigation had determined if he had violated his contract by breaking NCAA rules.
O'Brien testified Monday that he gave the money to Radojevic because the player's father was dying and the family had no money for medicine or the funeral.
Geiger said the loan clearly was a violation, and he was most bothered by O'Brien waiting more than five years to reveal that he gave Radojevic money. Geiger called it a cover-up.
"He said he was telling me because I was going to find out anyway. And I think that's a breach of trust and that's a breach of contract," he said.
O'Brien said he waited to reveal the loan because he knew no one would believe he did it for humanitarian reasons.
Swank, a University of Oklahoma law professor, said the payment was not an NCAA violation because Radojevic was already a professional after being paid to play in his homeland.
Swank was asked by Brian Murphy, one of O'Brien's attorneys, if there is any NCAA regulation which prevents a coach from giving money to a professional player.
"There is none," Swank said.
He also said that all of O'Brien's actions were outside the NCAA's four-year statute of limitations at the time he was fired.
Radojevic never enrolled at Ohio State and was declared ineligible by the NCAA for accepting around $9,000 to play for a team in his native Yugoslavia. He was later taken by Toronto in the first round of the 1999 NBA draft.
Ohio State said it was still a violation -- and fireable offense -- because Radojevic had not been officially declared ineligible to play college basketball at the time of the loan.
Julie Vannatta, the associate legal counsel to Ohio State's athletic department, consulted with Geiger about whether the university should fire O'Brien. She said ultimately it was decided Ohio State could no longer believe its coach and the payment to Radojevic violated not only NCAA rules but also the coach's contract.
Ohio State's director of athletic compliance, Heather Lyke, testified she never spoke with O'Brien about the loan but, based on what she was told by Geiger, she considered it to be a major violation of NCAA rules.
Geiger said he was angry Ohio State appealed the NCAA's decision finding Radojevic ineligible and O'Brien still did not disclose the loan.
"It was all moot -- a sham -- because he paid money to a prospective student-athlete," Geiger said.
O'Brien's contract allowed for him to be suspended until the NCAA ruled after an investigation, but Geiger said the option was not considered seriously because the university thought the loan was such a blatant violation.
The trial is separate from the NCAA's investigation into violations committed during O'Brien's coaching tenure with the Buckeyes.
O'Brien's loan to Radojevic came to light through a lawsuit by a woman who said she provided housing, meals, money and clothes for another Ohio State recruit, Boban Savovic, also from Serbia. He played four years with the Buckeyes, including the 1999 Final Four team, and is the source of several of the NCAA violations.
Copyright 2005 by The Associated Press