O'Brien denies he gave Ohio State grounds for firing

Updated: December 14, 2005, 8:09 PM ET
Associated Press

COLUMBUS, Ohio -- The president of Ohio State testified Wednesday that the school had grounds to fire basketball coach Jim O'Brien because he admitted violating NCAA rules by lending a potential recruit $6,000.

Because of the admission, Karen Holbrook said the school didn't have to honor a provision in O'Brien's contract that said the NCAA had to rule on alleged violations.

O'Brien, however, denied telling former athletic director Andy Geiger that he violated an NCAA rule. His suit, in the Ohio Court of Claims, asks for $3.5 million in back pay and benefits for being improperly dismissed in June 2004. The judgment could grow by millions if interest and other damages are awarded.

"The issue was the coach had entered into a clear violation of NCAA bylaws, it was considered to be a blatant violation, and an egregious violation, and one that had no remedy," Holbrook said.

O'Brien said the loan to Aleksandar Radojevic, a 7-foot-3 prospect from Serbia, was not a violation because he knew Radojevic already had forfeited his amateur status by playing professionally.

He said he gave the money to Radojevic because the player's father was dying and the family had no money for medicine or the funeral.

O'Brien's lawyers have argued that his contract allowed Ohio State to suspend him until the NCAA investigated any possible violation and then rendered a decision, but Geiger said that was not considered.

"We're now in the 19th month of the NCAA process. Having a coach in limbo or having a coach suspended would be grossly unfair to the young people who play basketball at Ohio State," said Geiger, called as the school's first witness but testifying for the third time in the trial. "It would have arrested any development of our program and that would have been an untenable solution."

O'Brien coached the Buckeyes to a 133-88 record that included two Big Ten titles and a conference tournament title in seven seasons.

Copyright 2005 by The Associated Press