Former Northwestern Basketball Player Challenges NCAA Transfer Rules, Alleges Chris Collins Went to Extreme Measures to Run Him Off

By Jason Lisk
Nov 15, 2016, 3:20 PM EST

Johnnie Vassar, a former Northwestern basketball player recruited by Chris Collins before the 2014-2015 season, has filed a lawsuit against Northwestern University and the NCAA over his treatment while under scholarship at Northwestern. The suit alleges several types of conduct by head coach Chris Collins and the athletic department to force Vassar to relinquish his athletic scholarship at the end of his freshman season, and continuing thereafter.

The NCAA is brought into the lawsuit under an anti-trust claim, because Vassar could not freely transfer (and alleges that all the schools that he spoke with said they would only want him if he did not have to sit out a year) after Northwestern forced him off the team, without sitting out.

The lawsuit can be found here, and contains the following allegations:

"On or about February 3, 2015, after a game, head coach Chris Collins publicly berated Johnnie in the locker room, stating that Johnnie “sucked” at basketball, had a bad attitude, didn’t do ’shit’ when Johnnie was in the game, and should expect not to play anymore. Several of Johnnie’s teammates approached him afterwards and told him that Coach Collins’ statements were completed uncalled for."

Thereafter, the lawsuit alleges that Collins and the coaching staff hounded Vassar to transfer and leave the program throughout the month of March. That included contacting his mother, who was claimed to have been ill, on multiple occasions, and the mother claims, “[assistant] Coach [Armon] Gates responded along the lines that while Coach Collins wouldn’t say they were forcing Johnnie out, Gates confirmed they were, in fact, forcing him off of the team.”

On March 30th, 2015, the school announced that Vassar would be transferring from the program. But he did not transfer, and thus did not give up his athletic scholarship, though he was kicked off the team by Collins.

The suit alleges that he was put in the “Wildcat Internship Program” to retain his scholarship. However, under that “internship,” he no longer participated with the basketball team, but performed menial tasks at 7 a.m., such as picking up trash, operating a leaf blower, shoveling snow, putting salt down for ice, wiping down bleachers, sweeping the baseball diamond, and lifting metal planks.

In March of this year, Northwestern offered to convert his athletic scholarship to an academic scholarship as part of the legal wrangling to free up a scholarship for the basketball team. Vassar also alleges that a Deputy General Counsel for Northwestern inquired about his openness to a cash payment equivalent to the value of the scholarship, to free up the athletic spot.

The suit alleges numerous text exchanges, calls, and communications. If those are confirmed by evidence, Northwestern could be in some trouble.

This isn’t even a power program in Division I, and one wonders how much of the transfer epidemic (that coaches love to whine about while changing jobs at will) is due to coaches using pressure to force players to transfer, so they can free up limited spots in basketball.