Was UConn’s firing of Kevin Ollie racially motivated?

FILE - In this Feb. 7, 2018, file photo, Connecticut head coach Kevin Ollie watches from the sideline during the first half an NCAA college basketball game in Storrs, Conn. The University of Connecticut has announced it is self-imposing penalties, including the loss of a scholarship for the 2019-20 season, for violations of NCAA rules under former basketball coach Kevin Ollie, Friday, Jan. 18, 2019. The school said it also will restrict its recruiting and pay a fine of $5,000.(AP Photo/Jessica Hill, File)

In March, the University of Connecticut fired men’s basketball coach Kevin Ollie “for cause” in response to Ollie’s violation NCAA rules. Ollie’s legal team, however, believes the breakup was a result of something entirely more nefarious.

“In addition to terminating his employment without just cause in violation of the collective bargaining agreement, (UConn) has discriminated against (Ollie) on the basis of his race and color in violation of the federal state law”.

While it is certainly plausible that racism played a role in Ollie’s termination, the evidence would seem to indicate otherwise.

Ollie was brought on in 2012 because of his experience and qualifications, dating back to his thirteen-year playing career in the NBA with twelve different franchises and two seasons as assistant under UConn head coach Jim Calhoun. When Calhoun retired, Ollie rose to the top of a competitive field of qualified candidates and was chosen to fill the position.

After leading the team to a national title in 2014, Kevin Ollie ascended to royalty around Storrs and was paid accordingly. The university and Ollie agreed to a five-year deal worth $2.8 million per year in 2014. Coach Ollie’s teams would subsequently miss the postseason three of his last four years, compiling a losing record of 30-35 from 2016-2018. Ollie wasn’t producing anymore and UConn was still on the hook for $10 million.

Despite the losses, it was ultimately Ollie’s violation of NCAA recruiting regulations that forced the university’s hand. According to the Hartford Courant, “[Ollie’s firing] was the result of multiple players working with an outside trainer on campus and in Atlanta, an impermissible call between Ray Allen and a recruit and Ollie shooting baskets with a recruit during an official visit” ().

In response to the 1,355-page report of NCAA violations released by investigators, Kevin Ollie’s legal team filed a lawsuit against UConn on the grounds that racial discrimination was the driving force behind his termination. Thus far, there is no evidence to suggest that racial discrimination played a role in the university’s decision to cut ties with its coach. Imaginably, UConn students are grateful for Ollie’s deliverance of a national title in 2014. Yet, Ollie’s job, after all, was to win consistently and to do so in accordance with NCAA regulations. Thus far, it appears that this failure was the actual reason for Ollie’s unfortunate departure.