EDITORIAL: A UIC coach, the state Ethics Act and an extra $2,500

SHARE EDITORIAL: A UIC coach, the state Ethics Act and an extra $2,500

University of Illinois at Chicago men’s basketball Steve McClain violated the state’s Ethics Act and UIC’s conflict of interest policy in 2016. | James Crisp/AP

Steve McClain is about to start his fourth season coaching the men’s basketball team at the University of Illinois at Chicago.

We can only hope that by now he’s following the rules. And we have to wonder if administrators at UIC are paying close attention.

Here’s why:

Two years ago, McClain violated the state’s Ethics Act when he received $2,500 from a Chicago company that sells software to UIC and other colleges. The Ethics Act prohibits state employees from taking gifts from vendors.

This finding — which got very little, if any, public attention — came earlier this year from the Governor’s Office of the Executive Inspector General.


What was the money for? That depends whom you ask.

An employee for the software company, FastModel Sports, wrote in her bookkeeping notes that McClain received the $2,500 “for getting UIC to buy product,” according to a report by Assistant Inspector General Dirk De Lor.

FastModel’s CEO said that the UIC coach got his university to upgrade its sports software so that coaches at other schools would see that UIC had done so, the FastModel bookkeeping employee told investigators.

UIC, according to De Lor’s report, spent $5,000 for the upgraded software in 2016 — up from $2,500 the previous year.

Imagine that. A $2,500 upcharge. The same amount that FastModel Sports later paid to McClain.

This, of course, looks suspicious, especially because of text messages from McClain that investigators reviewed.

Those messages indicate that McClain was making calls to other coaches to tout the FastModel software, according to De Lor’s report. Backing this up were statements from the FastModel CEO himself, who told investigators he offered McClain $2,500 to make those calls, and that McClain accepted.

In July 2016, McClain texted the CEO, asking, “so what am I getting for helping and making calls.”

This would be a good time to interject that McClain makes about $400,000 a year as UIC basketball coach. That’s a fraction of what coaches at Big Ten universities make, but a heck of a lot more than most folks.

McClain told state investigators there was nothing untoward about the arrangement — that the $2,500 he got from FastModel was for sponsorship of his basketball camps.

Indeed, the check was made payable to a limited liability corporation McClain owns to run the camps at UIC.

But McClain, according to the report, “admitted that he did not report FastModel’s sponsorship to UIC.” Under UIC rules, he was required to do so because the camp was taking place on state property and because the school does business with FastModel.

McClain didn’t end up keeping the $2,500 for his camp. He sent it to a charity, UIC athletics spokesman Dan Yopchick told us.

Still, the assistant inspector general concluded that McClain “engaged in activities on behalf of FastModel Sports that created a conflict of interest in violation of UIC’s conflict of interest policy and Facility Use Agreement.”

Violations like this would get a lot of people in a lot of trouble at many jobs. UIC put a “letter of expectations” in the coach’s personnel file and had him undergo training about gifts and conflicts of interest.

The case reached the desk of Illinois Attorney General Lisa Madigan, who did not seek action against McClain.

UIC has a fuzzy reading of the whole thing.

The inspector general’s office “concluded that Coach McClain unintentionally accepted a gift from a university vendor,” the UIC athletics spokesman, Yopchick, said in a statement.

But there’s nothing whatsoever in De Lor’s report that indicates McClain did all this by accident.

And college coaches wonder why their profession gets a bad rap.

Send letters to: letters@suntimes.com

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