UConn AD: 'We will fight to protect our men's basketball program'

Dom Amore, The Hartford Courant on

Published in Basketball

STORRS, Conn. -- UConn athletic director David Benedict gave his own version of a state of the union address, meeting with reporters for 15 minutes to talk about the various issues swirling around the school's athletic department.

The most pressing issue is the NCAA inquiry into men's basketball recruiting, a topic around which Benedict had to tread carefully.

"We're going to fight to protect our university brand," Benedict said. "We're going to fight to protect our men's basketball program, because we believe that we have been doing all of those (proper) things and we're very committed to compliance."

Word of the NCAA inquiry surfaced on Jan. 26, as Benedict was traveling through Asia, including stops in Vietnam and China, for Nike-related business. UConn issued a statement regarding the inquiry, affirming its intention to fully cooperate with the NCAA.

"Listen, it's going to be difficult for me to provide any feedback," Benedict said. "We did issue a statement, that statement was issued from my office, it's from me. I will tell you, certainly we expect and are always going to strive to have a culture of compliance in the athletics department. I expect all of our head coaches are committed to that."

As for any timetable -- the NCAA is known to move slowly -- Benedict has no idea when there might be resolution. "There is no one that would want to know more than us," he said.


"The thing we need to do is wake up every day and have a commitment to compliance," Benedict said. "And that means we're doing proper education for all of our coaches, all of our student-athletes, all of our staff. It means we are constantly pushing ourselves to learn how to manage those things. For our coaches, it can be challenging, there are so many rules, the rulebook is extremely thick, but as we like to say, 'It's important to ask. If you have a question, ask the question so our compliance staff can help.' "

Benedict addressed other issues, such as the department's financial challenges going forward, the reaffirmed school's commitment to the American Athletic Conference, and the status of men's basketball coach Kevin Ollie, who is signed through 2021. Ollie's team is 11-12 going into its game against South Florida on Wednesday night, and could post a second consecutive losing season.

"I really believe our kids are focused," Benedict said. "Coach Ollie and I have spoken, he understands he has got to focus on things he can control. I have a good relationship with Coach, I believe he wants to do things the right way. ... You go through the entire season. The evaluation isn't over until the season is over, so we're going to get to the end of the season. As we all know, anyone who knows the history of our men's basketball program knows we have had some great finishes to our seasons. Therefore, let's not jump out and get ahead of ourselves, let's continue to evaluate and at the time the season us over, that will be the appropriate time to look at all aspects of the program."

UConn's quest to join a Power Five conference since the breakup of the Big East in 2012 has been a frustrating process for fans, who miss the old men's basketball rivalries. There has been speculation about joining the new Big East in sports other than football, and finding a new home for the football program, but Benedict reiterated his commitment to the AAC.


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