Schools, conferences try to overturn O'Brien award

Updated: November 20, 2006, 10:21 PM ET
Associated Press

COLUMBUS, Ohio -- Eighteen universities and the Big Ten, Pacific-10 and Big 12 conferences filed a brief Monday in state appeals court supporting Ohio State in its bid to overturn a $2.4 million award to former men's basketball coach Jim O'Brien.

The universities and conferences argue the Ohio Court of Claims' ruling earlier this year that Ohio State improperly fired O'Brien limits their ability to comply with NCAA rules and discipline employees who violate them.

Judge Joseph Clark said the university had to pay O'Brien -- even though he broke NCAA bylaws by giving $6,000 to a recruit -- because it did not follow the terms of O'Brien's contract when firing him in 2004.

"NCAA member institutions must now choose between taking meaningful action to correct NCAA rules violations and avoid further violations, and avoiding contract damages to a coach who has shown a blatant disregard for the best interests of the institution,'' the colleges and conferences argue in the brief.

Joseph Murray, O'Brien's attorney, said he had not yet seen the brief, or one also filed Monday by the university.

"I can't imagine why Ohio State would need the support of any other university,'' he said.

Ohio State appealed the decision to the 10th Ohio District Court of Appeals in September. The university said in its filing Monday that Clark was wrong in ruling that the loan was not a major violation of O'Brien's contract and that the judge should have taken into account evidence gathered after the coach's firing.

Murray said O'Brien also filed an appeal Monday, seeking an additional $1.3 million based on what Ohio State promised him in his employment contract.

O'Brien, who coached the Buckeyes for seven years and took them to the Final Four in 1999, was fired after revealing to then-athletic director Andy Geiger that he had given the money to Aleksandar Radojevic, a 7-foot-3 Serbian prospect who never played for the Buckeyes.

An NCAA investigation that followed resulted in three years of probation for Ohio State. The NCAA ruled in March the university had to erase all references to its trip to the Final Four and repay some $800,000 in tournament revenue for using an ineligible player from 1998-2002 while O'Brien was coach.

The University of Michigan submitted the brief. Other supporters include the universities of Illinois, Iowa, Minnesota, Notre Dame, Wisconsin, Arizona, Southern California, Arkansas, Mississippi and Texas as well as Indiana, Michigan State, Northwestern, Penn State, Purdue, Arizona State and Stanford universities.

Copyright 2006 by The Associated Press