Missouri paid assistants $136,000 to resign

? The University of Missouri-Columbia paid more than $136,000 to two basketball coaches who are accused of breaking NCAA rules in exchange for their resignations and pledges never to sue, documents obtained by the Associated Press show.

Missouri had no legal obligation to pay anything to associate head coach Tony Harvey or assistant coach Lane Odom; Quin Snyder, Missouri’s head coach, confirmed to the AP that neither had a contract and both served at his pleasure.

The university president’s office referred questions about the payments to Mike Alden, athletic director of the Columbia campus. Alden declined comment Friday through spokesman Chad Moller, who said the payments were tied to the NCAA investigation and that Alden was bound by confidentiality rules.

Missouri was told in the NCAA’s formal notice of allegations that Harvey and Odom were expected to testify before its infractions committee about the alleged rulebreaking.

Stu Brown, an attorney who represents both former coaches, said Friday they were cooperating with the investigation.

Harvey was accused by the NCAA of lying on his expense account to conceal impermissible meals for high school and Amateur Athletic Union coaches, violating recruiting rules and giving former Missouri guard Ricky Clemons $250. Harvey has denied the allegations. Odom was accused of various recruiting violations.

Separate settlements signed by Harvey and Odom said they agreed with the university “that their mutual best interests will be served” by the resignations and agreements not to sue.

In exchange, each was paid in a lump sum the equivalent of the rest of this year’s salary.

Harvey, who made $140,000 annually, accepted $73,022.73 for leaving.

Odom, who was paid $108,000 a year, received $63,000 in exchange for his resignation and promise not to sue.

The amounts and supporting documents were disclosed by the university after requests from the AP citing Missouri’s Sunshine Law.

Attorney Brown said “the payments are appropriate because it is practically impossible to find comparable coaching employment until at least May of 2005,” because hiring coincides with the cycles of college basketball seasons.

“From the perspective of the coaches, the dollar amounts were very reasonable and in line with or perhaps less than what other coaches and assistant coaches have received in similar circumstances,” Brown added.

Moller, the athletic department spokesman, said money for the settlements came from the department’s operating budget, which was just over $30 million in the just-ended school year.

About $230,000 of the department’s general budget comes from the university, and the balance is from sources including media rights, sales of tickets and merchandise, private donations and Big 12 Conference revenues, Moller said.

The university said Harvey, as Snyder’s top assistant, received other perks as part of his employment, including four basketball season tickets; use of a car and membership in a Columbia country club. Odom’s work compensation also included four season tickets and use of a car. Both could have earned cash bonuses if Missouri had advanced in postseason tournament play.

Odom signed his settlement and the school announced his resignation on May 12, hours after top university officials announced details of the NCAA allegations. At the time, Odom said in a statement he was resigning to pursue “other opportunities.”

The same day, university officials said Harvey had been placed on paid leave pending the outcome of the NCAA investigation. Harvey sent a resignation letter to Snyder on June 18, the same day he signed his settlement.

Brown, the attorney for Harvey and Odom, said both men are seeking other jobs. If they land other work, they may still keep the settlement money. And because Harvey spent at least five years on the university payroll, he remains vested in its retirement system.

Snyder wasted no time filling the vacancies. On Monday, three days after Harvey signed his resignation, Snyder introduced former Texas A&M head coach Melvin Watkins as the replacement associate head coach. And on Thursday, Snyder welcomed Jeff Meyer, assistant coach at Butler University, as Odom’s numerical successor and his final hire.

Snyder and university officials have repeatedly declined to discuss details of the NCAA investigation, saying they are bound by confidentiality rules.

Neil Bernstein, a law professor at Washington University in St. Louis, said that even without a legal obligation to pay Harvey and Odom, the University of Missouri took “a reasonably prudent course of action” by making a deal to avoid future legal action.

“They can get on with their lives and the university can get on with its life without worrying about potential litigation,” said Bernstein, who has specialized in labor law since 1967.