Long legal battle looms after C?of?C fired Wojcik


Doug Wojcik pulled into the driveway of his West Ashley home on that late June afternoon thinking the worst was probably behind him.

Wojcik had learned just hours earlier that outgoing College of Charleston president George Benson had handed down a one-month suspension without pay during the month of August and ordered the former Naval Academy guard to undergo counseling for allegations of verbal abuse against his players and members of the athletic department staff. Sure there would be apologies to make and fences to mend, but after the healing process was over, Wojcik thought he could get back to being the head basketball coach of the College of Charleston.

He could not have been more wrong.

Thirty-six days after Benson's ruling, the school's new president, Glenn McConnell, fired Wojcik for "just cause" after a second investigation, which included allegations of physical abuse of a player, was completed.

As a result, the College of Charleston could be facing one of the ugliest and perhaps costliest court battles involving a college athletic program in recent memory.

If Wojcik and Scott Tompsett, his Kansas City based attorney, file a wrongful termination lawsuit, which is expected to happen sooner rather than later, the litigation process could be lengthy.

After all the filings and counter fillings, motions and depositions, a final resolution in a case could take years to settle.

Wojcik, Tompsett, McConnell and College of Charleston athletic director Joe Hull all declined to comment for this story.

The cost of such a court fight, in both dollars and reputation for the College of Charleston and Wojcik, could be incalculable.

"At the end of the day, there are not going to be any winners in this case," said ESPN basketball analyst and Charlotte-based attorney Jay Bilas. "This is an unfortunate situation for Doug Wojcik and the College of Charleston. No one will win no matter what the outcome ends up being, especially if this case gets to a courtroom."

Tompsett is considered one of the top litigators in his field. He has built a national reputation and has represented such high-profile clients as University of Connecticut basketball coach Jim Calhoun, Arizona and former Michigan football coach Rich Rodriguez, and former Southern Cal assistant football coach Todd McNair.

"He's a superior advocate to have in your corner," Bilas said. "If the College of Charleston thinks that Scott Tompsett and Doug Wojcik are just going to go away now that he's been fired, I think they've underestimated their resolve."

Since the middle of May, the College has launched two investigations into Wojcik's actions during his tenure as the school's basketball coach. The first was completed at the end of June and concluded with a 50-page report that exposed dozens of allegations of Wojcik verbally abusing players and athletic department staff members.

College of Charleston's Hull told players during a meeting on June 30 that he was going to fire Wojcik. However, Benson overruled Hull and suspended Wojcik without pay for the month of August and ordered him to undergo mandatory counseling.

The second probe was prompted after former Cougars guard Trevonte Dixon claimed he was physically abused by Wojcik twice during the 2012-13 season. Dixon claims to have been assaulted during a preseason game in Canada and again during a road game against Elon in 2012.

Before he was fired, Wojcik had three years remaining on his contract that would have paid him more than $1.2 million.

If a wrongful termination suit is filed, the case could be more about McConnell's decision to launch a second investigation and his subsequent decision to fire the coach than any alleged verbal or physical abuse by Wojcik.

The day that Wojcik was fired, Tompsett issued a statement that said "the College became so desperate to invent a reason to fire Coach Wojcik that it had some of the young men on the basketball team sign sworn affidavits, which we believe contain materially false statements. The College even got one of the incoming freshmen, who has never even played for Coach Wojcik, to swear under oath that he was physically abused by Coach Wojcik."

The fact that Wojcik had accepted the punishment handed down by Benson but later was fired by McConnell with no substantial new evidence could be the strongest argument for the coach, Bilas said.

"From Doug Wojcik's position, I think one could raise some questions about whether or not the second investigation was undertaken simply to take the action to fire him," Bilas said. "They had suspended him and for whatever reason, later on decided that they needed to, or should have, fired Doug. So now they need to create a situation under which we can fire him for just cause."

If the case moves toward a trial, Wojcik's legal team is likely to call dozens of witnesses, including McConnell, Benson, legal counsel at the school, assistant coaches, players and athletic department staff members.

The testimony could take months to compile.

"If the suit were to survive all the initial filings and motions and counter motions, then it'll go to the discovery phase," Bilas said. "And that's where things could get very interesting. During that discovery phase an attorney can ask any question they reasonably think will lead to discovery of admissible evidence. It's a nice way of saying that Scott (Tompsett) or the College of Charleston attorneys can ask anything they want."

Not only would testimony be involved, but any phone records, emails, text messages or any correspondence relevant to the case could be made public as well.

"Litigation is not fun for anyone, even the lawyers," Bilas said. "Why would either side want go to through that? Why would a coach who wants to coach again go through that? Why would the university put itself in that position where they are likely to have things that are embarrassing come to the surface?"

As the discovery phase moves forward, the costs begin to mount for both sides. How much would a trial of this nature cost?

No one is sure.

"Any trial is expensive, but it would depend on how many people were working on the case and for how long," Bilas said. "Folks usually get more realistic about their circumstances the closer they get to trial. It's amazing how reasonable people can get walking up the courtroom steps."

Marc Edelman, who is a leading expert in sports law, said that most wrongful termination suits of this nature never make it to the courtroom. Edelman is an associate professor of law at the Zicklin School of Business, Baruch College, City University of New York.

"The vast majority of cases like this never go to trial," Edelman said. "The percentages are that most cases end up with a settlement because neither side really wants to go through the process of getting the case before a jury."

Even Rutgers basketball coach Mike Rice, who was caught on video using slurs and hitting players during practices, received a $475,000 settlement with the school. Rice had $1.1 million remaining on his contract when the case was settled in April 2013.

"I can't remember the last time a wrongful termination suit involving a Division I basketball or football coach, one as high profile as this case, has gone to trial," Bilas said. "It'll depend on how far each side is dug in and how far they are willing to take it. Predicting the outcome of sporting events is about as easy as predicting the behavior of litigants."