COLUMBUS, Ohio — Former Ohio State men’s basketball coach Jim O’Brien will try to prove in a trial that the university was wrong to fire him for giving a recruit a $6,700 loan.

O’Brien is suing Ohio State, saying it owes him at least $3.5 million in guaranteed salary and benefits for his 2004 dismissal. With damages, the award could be worth millions more.

O’Brien, head coach of the Buckeyes for seven years, was fired June 8, 2004. Then-Ohio State athletic director Andy Geiger said O’Brien was fired after the coach acknowledged to him he had given $6,700 in 1999 to 7-foot-3 Yugoslavian center Aleksandar Radojevic.

“The admission of the giving of (the money) is enough of an issue to take this step,” Geiger said at a news conference announcing O’Brien’s dismissal. “Obviously, he knows that violates NCAA bylaws. He admitted that he knew that he did.”

The civil trial, which is scheduled to begin Monday, is separate from the NCAA’s investigation into violations committed during O’Brien’s coaching tenure with the Buckeyes.

On Friday, the NCAA’s Infractions Committee in Indianapolis started then abruptly postponed a hearing into seven breaches of NCAA bylaws between 1998 and 2004. There are also individual violations in the football and women’s basketball programs to address.

The hearing was to determine whether O’Brien’s firing and the banning of the Buckeyes from the 2005 postseason are adequate punishment for the violations. The postponement had nothing to do with the case’s merits, the NCAA said.

The NCAA ruled Radojevic ineligible after determining he accepted money from a professional team. He never enrolled at Ohio State.

The Toronto Raptors took him in the first round of the 1999 NBA draft with the 12th overall pick. He played with the Utah Jazz last season.

O’Brien’s Ohio State contract permitted the university to fire him for “a deliberate or serious violation by coach of any applicable law, policy, rule or regulation of Ohio State, the Big Ten Conference or the NCAA.”

O’Brien’s attorney, Joseph Murray, will argue that O’Brien’s contract required the NCAA to investigate and prove a “deliberate or serious violation” before he could be dismissed.

O’Brien, who declined through his attorney to be interviewed, has said he loaned Radojevic his own money for humanitarian reasons, because the player’s father was dying and the family had no money for medicine or the funeral. O’Brien also has said in court papers that he knew early on that Radojevic would never play for Ohio State.

Geiger told O’Brien’s lawyers in a deposition earlier this year that he thought the NCAA would conclude the school had lost control over the men’s basketball program, The Columbus Dispatch reported Saturday. Geiger said Saturday that he was merely speculating.

A finding of lack of institutional control would allow the NCAA to ban a school from competition. That rarely occurs and has been considered unlikely in Ohio State’s case.

Current Ohio State athletic director Gene Smith, who succeeded Geiger in March, termed the violations “very serious.”

“The level of extra benefits is significant,” he said earlier this year.

Recommended for you

(0) comments

Welcome to the discussion.

Keep it Clean. Please avoid obscene, vulgar, lewd, racist or sexually-oriented language.
PLEASE TURN OFF YOUR CAPS LOCK.
Don't Threaten. Threats of harming another person will not be tolerated.
Be Truthful. Don't knowingly lie about anyone or anything.
Be Nice. No racism, sexism or any sort of -ism that is degrading to another person.
Be Proactive. Use the 'Report' link on each comment to let us know of abusive posts.
Share with Us. We'd love to hear eyewitness accounts, the history behind an article.