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Published: Thursday, 2/21/2008

Court upholds O'Brien decision; OSU to pay fired coach nearly $3M

ASSOCIATED PRESS

COLUMBUS - Ohio State will pay former coach Jim O'Brien almost $3 million for wrongfully firing him.

The Ohio Supreme Court declined yesterday to hear Ohio State's appeal of the coach's lawsuit against the university, signaling an end to a lengthy court battle.

"With this ruling, the university has exhausted all of its available appeals and the case will conclude," Ohio State spokesman Jim Lynch said. "The outcome of this case is disappointing news."

O'Brien said he was relieved to finally move on.

"I'm thrilled that that's all behind me, but there is still a little bit of this stigma about what happened," O'Brien told The Associated Press. "In all honesty the most disappointing thing was how my character was being attacked and that's the thing that hurts every bit as much as everything else."

O'Brien, the men's basketball coach at Ohio State from 1998 until 2004, was fired after he told then-athletic director Andy Geiger that he had given a $6,000 loan to a prospective recruit. Such loans are a violation of NCAA rules.

O'Brien sued the university for wrongfully firing him and won $2.2 million plus interest in the Ohio Court of Claims in 2006. The university appealed to the Supreme Court after an appeals court upheld the award. The university and O'Brien's lawyers figure the total award will be $2.7 million to nearly $3 million.

The Supreme Court voted 5-2 not to hear the case. The court did not say why it refused to do so.

O'Brien's lawsuit was built around an Ohio State contract that severely limited what the university could do and when it could do it if he broke NCAA bylaws. It required that the university take a series of steps before firing him, including a lengthy investigation by Ohio State and the NCAA.

Ohio State's attorneys argued that O'Brien shouldn't be paid for breaking the rules.

The 57-year-old O'Brien has not coached since he was fired by Ohio State. The NCAA initially leveled heavy sanctions against him for violating bylaws but recently announced that he could return to college coaching as soon as March 10.

"I don't know what I'm going to do regarding the coaching scenario," O'Brien said. "I don't know what opportunities will be there."

Eighteen other universities and the Big 12, Pac-10 and Big Ten conferences filed briefs in support of Ohio State's case.



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