In a full-length feature story for VICE Sports released on Wednesday, Johnnie Vassar told the story of his time with the Northwestern basketball team and the circumstances that led to the end of his athletic scholarship. VICE Sports also published new details and documents pertaining to Vassar’s treatment and spoke to NCAA officials who suggested that the basketball program may have broken NCAA compliance rules.
The story, penned by Inside NU co-founder Kevin Trahan (full disclosure), tracks Vassar’s basketball career from his time in high school to the present. VICE interviewed Vassar for three hours in Chicago and also spoke to former Northwestern player Kale Abrahamson, who transferred from the school in 2014.
The piece detailed the behavior of Chris Collins, his staff, and the university during transfer process as explained in the initial lawsuit. The lawsuit and article allege that Northwestern used “harassment, pressure, and deception” to force Vassar out of the program. Vassar reiterated his claims that Collins and his staff insulted him, forced him to leave the team, and falsified his timecards as grounds to remove his scholarship.
Vassar also again alleged that Northwestern inquired about a cash payment to forfeit his scholarship. Eventually, Vassar’s athletic scholarship was indeed converted to an academic scholarship against his will, which is why he is suing the university. Whether this was against antitrust laws is a matter for the courts.
The antitrust lawsuit is part of a larger lawsuit by Hagens Berman Sobol Shapiro, who have collected a series of lawsuits seeking to overturn the NCAA transfer rules on antitrust grounds. The firm won a 208 million dollar settlement from the NCAA on antitrust grounds in February and was also involved in the Ed O’Bannon case. Northwestern and the NCAA have filed motions to dismiss Vassar’s suit.
Importantly, VICE also interviewed NCAA compliance officials who stated that Northwestern’s conduct in potentially recruiting a replacement for Vassar and requiring Vassar to complete an “internship” with the program to receive a scholarship was questionable.
Per the story:
“Northwestern did not respond to a VICE Sports inquiry about whether it was still recruiting Nichols at the time; if the school was, it arguably would amount to a violation of NLI rules, according to one of the NCAA compliance officials.”
“Cherise said that she and and her son signed the agreement because they believed that he would lose his athletic scholarship if they didn't. One of the NCAA Division I school compliance officials who spoke to VICE Sports said that isn't the case. "You can't push them off to another obligation," the official said. "There's nowhere in the NCAA manual that says anything about that. If they say, 'you need to do 40 community service hours,' no, you don't. It doesn't say anything about that." Another NCAA Division I school compliance official confirmed that analysis to VICE Sports.”
Northwestern and Chris Collins declined to comment for the VICE story.