Foul Ball

Baseball coach Jim Brady has been fighting his bosses in the UMSL athletic department for seven years. And he thought colon cancer was a pain in the ass.

Niederkorn, who had been the school's golf coach for eighteen years, wasted little time in submitting his resignation, calling the objectives "unreasonable, illogical and unacceptable."

The former golf coach, slated for induction into UMSL' sports hall of fame later this month, says what Brady has gone through is "terrible. Jim won that grievance against the athletic department, and then they treated him like shit," Niederkorn says. "I hate to throw stones, but something's not right. I can't put my finger on it, but I have to believe that it originates either from the athletic director's desk or from Vice Chancellor Reinhard Schuster or they're in collusion together, trying to purge the athletic department."

Brady’s competitive zeal has led to 530 victories over eighteen seasons at UMSL.
Jennifer Silverberg
Brady’s competitive zeal has led to 530 victories over eighteen seasons at UMSL.

In September of 1998, Dolan notified Brady that Curt Coonrod, then director of admissions, had alerted her that the baseball coach had made "numerous disparaging remarks" about the school's director of financial aid. The next month, Dolan sent Brady a "written warning" about this "inappropriate behavior." As a result of the comments, Brady was informed, he was being put on "probationary status."

Brady doesn't dispute that he made the comments but says Coonrod overheard him talking to someone else about the financial-aid director and blew the incident out of proportion.

The next spring, an on-field spat with an umpire ended with Brady's being suspended for a doubleheader on April 14. On June 29, 1999, Dolan fired him. The stated grounds for dismissal: lack of activity in recruiting, failure to take an NCAA examination on recruiting and failure to spend enough time at his campus office after the baseball season ended.

Brady's attorney, Jerome Dobson, filed a grievance with the University of Missouri system and an EEOC complaint contending that Brady had been terminated in retaliation for his previous complaints.

Two months later, the university's grievance committee reinstated Brady. But Dobson went ahead with a lawsuit in federal court seeking legal fees and back pay. (The matter was settled nearly two years later, in November 2001. Terms of the settlement were sealed.)

When he went back to work, Brady found that his office had been moved. Rather than return to the second floor of the Mark Twain Athletic and Fitness Center with most of his fellow coaches, his colleagues say, Brady was first slated to be relocated to the ground floor, in what had formerly been a janitor's closet. When it became clear that the closet wasn't adequately ventilated, Brady was moved into a solitary office next to the swimming pool that previously had been occupied by softball coach Lesa Bone. Bone, meanwhile, was moved into an office on the second floor.

A year ago this week, Dolan sent a memo to athletic-department staff stating that despite the state's "major financial crisis," her goal was "not to lay off employees and to provide the same revenue allocation" as the previous year.

A few weeks later, however, Brady was called into a meeting with Dolan and Vice Chancellor Schuster, along with softball coach Lesa Boneé and women's volleyball coach Denise Silvester. They were summarily informed that their salaries were to be halved and their medical benefits eliminated. The cutbacks, they were told, were part of a new three-tier system to allow money to be funneled into basketball and soccer -- the two sports at the school that involved the most students, both as players and spectators. Baseball, softball and women's volleyball would henceforth be "tier two" sports at the university.

"'Tier two'? This is Division II; we don't have any money to begin with," Brady seethes. "So what are they talking about, 'Tier one, tier two'? Soccer hasn't been as successful as baseball has. The excuse was 'Well, soccer is more of an international sport.' Well, St. Louis is definitely a baseball town."

Boneé, who left UMSL in September to become softball coach at Nova Southeastern University in Fort Lauderdale, Florida, calls the session with Dolan and Schuster "the most unprofessional meeting I had ever witnessed from a group of educators or administrators in the nineteen years I've been in education.

"I asked the vice chancellor when was the decision made, and he said, 'That's irrelevant,'" Boneé continues. "My comment back to him was 'Well, it's irrelevant to you because you still have a job. I find it very relevant because I'm 40 years old and you just reduced me to part-time.' He refused to answer questions. He was so arrogant."

Pat Dolan says dropping the coaches to part-time was a budget decision, period. In 2002, the athletic department was told to pick up the tab for utilities and custodial services that previously had been covered by the university. To cover that $200,000 expense, Dolan says, cuts had to be made.

"We could have cut scholarships, or we could have dropped a sport or sports," says the athletic director, "or cut games out of teams, or [said] that they wouldn't be allowed to travel, or [that they'd] only play league games. We looked at those possibilities, but then you're affecting the students' experience."

As it stood, the baseball program was already run on a shoestring. The UMSL program's annual operating expense of $20,291 (not counting salaries or scholarships) is the lowest of any Great Lakes Valley Conference team; the conference average is $43,322. UMSL is also dead last in scholarships, doling out the equivalent of 2.33 per year, compared with a conference average of 6.87.

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