Facing a wide-ranging and potentially costly inquiry into possible recruiting violations in its men’s basketball program, the University of Connecticut has increased the maximum amount it will pay the outside law firm that advises the school on NCAA matters.
Last April, the state signed a three-year contract with Lightfoot, Franklin & White of Birmingham, Ala., to provide a broad array of legal consulting services on NCAA-compliance matters at UConn, with a cap of $100,000.
In December, the contract was amended to increase the maximum payment to $250,000.
Pat McKenna, a UConn athletics spokesman, confirmed the contract amendment was related to the basketball inquiry. He said the increased cap did not reflect what the school expects to spend on additional legal services, but merely “gives us more flexibility should those additional services be needed.”
The Courant has reported that the NCAA is investigating the basketball program’s recruiting practices dating back several years, and has interviewed prep school coaches and others about players who attended UConn and players who committed to other schools.
The NCAA has strict rules on when, where and how school representatives can communicate with prospective student-athletes, as well as rules prohibiting improper inducements in the form of cash, gifts or other benefits provided to prospects or their families or friends. If violations are found, the NCAA can vacate past wins, limit future scholarships or recruiting opportunities, suspend coaches, fine schools and declare students ineligible for athletic play.
Eight lawyers serve on Lightfoot, Franklin & White’s NCAA team, which has represented numerous high-profile schools including the University of Alabama, University of Michigan, University of Southern California, University of North Carolina, Ohio State, Auburn University and Texas A&M. Last year, the firm represented the University of Hawaii in its successful appeal of a postseason ban imposed on the school’s mens basketball team.
The contract with UConn calls for fees ranging from $150 an hour for work done by paralegals to $300 an hour for work done by either of the two attorneys who lead the firm’s NCAA practice.
NCAA bylaws mandate that schools treat investigations as confidential, and university officials have had little to say on the probe, with President Susan Herbst and Men’s Basketball Coach Kevin Ollie each releasing brief statements pledging to cooperate with the investigation and declaring a commitment to compliance with league rules.