In the spring of 2012, while chronicling the aftermath of Bruce Weber’s firing from Illinois and hiring at Kansas State, various media reported and commented on Weber’s remarks regarding the “support” he received from Illinois Director of Athletics Mike Thomas.
Specifically, as the narrative suggested, Thomas failed to give Weber a “vote of confidence” during a February 11 radio interview with longtime Illini radio personalities Jim Turpin and Loren Tate.
Criticism zinged toward Thomas from Weber’s various friends in the coaching community and media. Weber joined the fray personally, telling ESPN his 2012 team would have made the NCAA Tournament but for the new Athletic Director’s meddling, incompetence, or failure to say nice things.
“[Otherwise] we would’ve made the NCAA tournament,” Weber said. “It was really hard on our kids. They really took it hard. They could sense what was going on. I mean, kids cried in my office, on the phone.
“We had been very competitive, but that caused us to lose some of that sense of togetherness, a sense of a future or whatever. That’s what gets you over the hump in some of those games. We didn’t have it.”
Because major college coaching contracts generally include clauses forbidding coaches from behavior harmful to or disparaging of their employer, I initiated an investigation to determine whether Weber’s direct and indirect statements could disqualify him from receiving the $3.9 million buyout stipulated in the September 2011 Restatement of Contract, the final employment agreement between Weber and the University of Illinois.
My investigation yielded documents, memos, emails, and NCAA compliance forms. Indeed, Weber’s contract contained a conduct clause:
Because NCAA compliance is one (along with conduct) of two enumerated causes for termination of Weber’s employment contract and because it’s a major factor in Weber’s public perception as a “clean” coach, I also sought to verify Weber’s “cleanliness.”
Pursuant to this goal, I queried the Illinois Division of Intercollegiate Athletics for compliance reports. Advised by the DIA to seek compliance reports via FOIA (Freedom of Information Act), I queried the University of Illinois for compliance reports.
This week, readers will learn that Bruce Weber’s administration of Illini basketball began, literally on the first day, with a violation of NCAA rules. Over the next nine seasons, Weber’s administration garnered twice and, in some cases, nearly three times as many violations as comparable schools within Illinois or the Big Ten conference.
But Weber’s documented NCAA violations are small fry. None rose to the level of “major violations” which would have released the university from its contractual obligations. The big money question, therefore, concerns the conduct clause. I will address that question as well.
Finally, I will publish an analysis of the FOIA process, including compliance reports from all the queried institutions:
- The University of Minnesota
- The University of Iowa
- The University of Wisconsin
- Michigan State University
- Southern Illinois University at Carbondale
- Illinois State University