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Performance review shows Holtmann 'exceeded expectations' for 2019-20 season

Adam Jardy
Buckeye Xtra
Ohio State coach Chris Holtmann claps on the sideline during a game against  Northwestern at Value City Arena on Jan. 13.

Ohio State men’s basketball coach Chris Holtmann did an “exceptional job” leading the team during the 2019-20 academic year, according to his annual performance review conducted by athletic director Gene Smith.

The report, obtained by an open-records request submitted by The Dispatch, reflects the university belief that had an NCAA Tournament been held, the Buckeyes were positioned to make a run. 

“Had there been postseason play, it was clear this team had a chance to accomplish something special coming out of the best league in the country,” Smith wrote on June 12. “Chris’s ability to put the players in position to be successful on the floor is a direct result of his outstanding coaching. He is an excellent teacher, who the players connect with and enjoy playing for.”

Smith also praised the team's academic achievement, character and behavior in Holtmann’s third season, as well as his ability to manage his coaches and support staff and recruit players who “fit our academic mission,” Smith said.

Among his accomplishments for the year, Holtmann listed being the fourth team in program history to record at least four top-10 wins, climbing “out of the APR danger zone of postseason ineligibility. Yes!!!” and, being ranked as high as No. 2 in the poll and also believing that a postseason run was ahead. 

“While nothing is guaranteed in the Tournament, I will say I felt as confident .going into the B1G and NCAA Tournament as any team I’ve coached,” Holtmann wrote, adding that the feeling was similar “to our Sweet 16 season in 2017 at Butler.” 

One of Holtmann’s accomplishments has been redacted, as has a portion of his response when asked to list his strengths. 

“Feel strongly about the development from 1 year to the next of several of our players and they deserve a ton of credit,” he wrote. The remainder of that answer is then redacted. 

Smith concluded that Holtmann’s performance exceeded expectations for the year, one that included the shutdown of the season and the loss of DJ Carton, Alonzo Gaffney and Luther Muhammad to offseason transfers. 

“As we look to the future, continuing the connection with the players is critical as we manage this new normal of transfers,” Smith wrote. “Chris has managed this new culture excellently, but it will need to be a continued issue to focus on.” 

Among his opportunities for improvement, Holtmann addressed the challenges of roster building. “In an ever-changing landscape of college basketball with earlier professionalization, increased transfer numbers, etc., we need to continue to work and adapt towards as much roster stability as possible,” he wrote. Holtmann also referenced his team’s 2-5 record in January games in the Big Ten. 

“We have to be better in the rough stretches of BIG play,” he wrote. “Obviously the last 2 years that has been January. I'm disappointed in myself on our Jan. play.” 

Holtmann was judged to have met expectations in every measurable category: job knowledge, productivity and quality of work, communication, teamwork, personal conduct and accountability, leadership, management, academic success of program, competitive success of program, commitment to compliance, student-athlete welfare, budget management and public relations/donor relations. 

COVID scheduling chaos

Ohio State paid nonconference opponents everything from $45,000 in cash to nothing more than the cost of food, transportation and lodging while putting together a men’s basketball schedule during the COVID-19 pandemic, according to documents obtained by The Dispatch through a public records request. 

Contracts for five games that were played, one that was not and a scrapped appearance in the Battle 4 Atlantis in the Bahamas reflected the chaos in putting together a schedule during a pandemic. 

In the spring, Ohio State's had announced a nonconference schedule that would have paid six opponents a total of $560,000 to come to Columbus for games. The Buckeyes didn't have to pay nearly that much — and possibly came out ahead by playing UCLA as part of a television double-header in Cleveland. 

But of course OSU didn't make money, either, with the loss of revenue from playing games without fans. 

Contracts for home games against Morehead State, Cleveland State, Massachusetts Lowell and Illinois State were signed during the fall, and each included varied language specifically citing that games could be canceled due to COVID-19 protocols, nullifying Ohio State’s financial responsibilities. How much that entailed varied from team to team. 

Cleveland State, which played the Buckeyes on Dec. 13, was paid $45,000 for the Dec. 13 game but OSU did not cover costs for lodging, transportation or food. Illinois State, which played the Buckeyes in the Nov. 25 opener as part of a multi-team event that Ohio State assembled after the Battle 4 Atlantis fell through, was not paid for the game. Instead, the Redbirds were given a $7,500 stipend for food and Ohio State paid for transportation as well as 16 hotel rooms for four nights. 

UMass Lowell, which also participated in the event, playing Illinois State on Nov. 28 and the Buckeyes one day later,received $20,000. Ohio State also provided 16 hotel rooms for two nights, bus transportation to the university and a $5,000 meal stipend. 

Morehead State, which played at Ohio State on Dec. 2, received $45,000 and 15 hotel rooms for two nights. 

Other documents showed that Ohio State was paid $225,000 to play UCLA in the CBS Sports Classic at Cleveland’s Rocket Mortgage Fieldhouse. 

Ohio State also had received $25,000 from Battle 4 Atlantis organizers as the first payment installment for agreeing to participate. The university was allowed to keep that money provided it “expresses its bona fide intent to participate in a future Battle 4 Atlantis.” 

When that event was canceled in October, Ohio State signed a contract to participate in a similar, an eight-team event in Sioux Falls, South Dakota. Teams withdrawingfrom the Crossroads Classic would be subject to a $100,000 fee to cover damages, but allowances were made for “prohibitive governmental regulation.” At the time of Ohio State’s decision to withdraw, South Dakota was a state on Ohio’s “no-travel” list. 

The Buckeyes lost one nonconference game when Alabama A&M traveled to Columbus but had at least one positive COVID-19 test and had to return home. The Bulldogs had a signed contract dating to April that would have paid them $90,000 and made no specific mention of COVID but stipulated the game could be terminated without penalty due to “unforeseen catastrophes or disasters beyond the control of either party.” 

Ohio State’s updated contracts also spelled out COVID testing protocols requiring all Tier 1 personnel on visiting teams to test at least once within 48 hours of leaving for the game. Upon arrival at least 24 hours before tip, all personnel would be subjected to Big Ten rapid point-of-care antigen testing as well as a second test two to six hours before the scheduled start time. 

Unless an opponent is testing at least six times per week, one positive test within 14 days via PCR testing or the two Big Ten rapid point-of-care antigen tests would cancel the game and void the contract.