University of Cincinnati document alleges three players 'went to the ground' after sprints at October practice, including one who reportedly passed out
"[Redacted] has [redacted] became dizzy and [redacted], passed out. After getting [redacted] the trainer’s table and on oxygen, John Brannen walked by and said, ‘tapping out.’"
Welcome back to Out of Bounds, a free, weekly newsletter about college athletics. Feedback, tips and story ideas are always welcome at andrew [dot] wittry [at] gmail [dot] com or you can connect with me on Twitter.
New details have emerged about former University of Cincinnati men’s basketball coach John Brannen’s alleged conduct, which resulted in his firing last month.
What you need to know
Here are the highlights from today’s newsletter:
Former University of Cincinnati men’s basketball coach John Brannen was fired on April 9 after two seasons with the university and after he had been placed on investigatory administrative leave. The university has since hired former UNC Greensboro coach Wes Miller.
Out of Bounds has obtained a new document, which summarizes reported meetings, practices, film sessions and team breakfasts over the course of five months last year, that outlines Brannen’s alleged distrust of the university’s administration and sports medicine staff members. In the document, one athletic department employee described being “very anxious over this situation because I felt I would be caught in the middle … I felt that I was in a position to get fired by John Brannen or by UC administration.”
During one practice last October, players were allegedly told to run a “33” – six court lengths in 33 seconds or less – four times, then to run a “17” – 17 court widths, which “traditionally” comes with an assigned time of 60 seconds or less, according to the document. Players who didn’t run the “17” in one minute or less were allegedly required to run another one and the practice allegedly resulted in three players ending up on the ground – reportedly one player who went to the floor after the first “17,” then allegedly two more after the second “17,” including one who was “dizzy” and one player who reportedly passed out, according to the document.
In the days leading up to the University of Cincinnati’s public announcement that it was reviewing allegations related to its men’s basketball program and in the weeks before University of Cincinnati Director of Athletics John Cunningham placed former Cincinnati men’s basketball coach John Brannen on investigatory administrative leave, a University of Cincinnati athletic department employee sent Cunningham and Associate Athletics Director for Compliance Trever Wright an email that contained a seven-page document that featured 28 entries, which detailed various meetings, practices, film sessions and breakfasts with members of the men’s basketball program. Each entry was labeled with a specific date and some days had multiple entries. The oldest date listed in the document is Aug. 7, 2020, which suggests that either the university was monitoring Brannen’s conduct prior to the official start of his second season at Cincinnati or that the athletic department employee reconstructed a timeline of Brannen’s alleged conduct after the fact.
The name of the athletic department employee who sent the document to Cunningham is being withheld by Out of Bounds given the sensitive nature of the allegations outlined in the document, which details emotional distress allegedly suffered by its author. Out of Bounds obtained a copy of the document through a public records request and the document was heavily redacted by the university to protect identifying student information.
As first reported by Out of Bounds, Cunningham’s letter that placed Brannen on investigatory administrative leave stated Brannen would be on leave with pay “while the University investigates credible allegations of misconduct by you. The nature of those allegations require that you be removed from the worksite in order to maintain the health, safety, and welfare of individuals in the University community while the allegations are being investigated.”
The seven-page document that the athletic department employee sent to Cunningham detailed a practice on Oct. 6, 2020, when three players allegedly went to the floor, collapsed or passed out after a series of sprints. According to the document, many of the sprints were initially punishment for the players not making enough free throws, then one subsequent sprint that allegedly resulted in a player passing out was reportedly punishment for players not completing a previous sprint in the time allotted. The drills at that practice reportedly “involved a lot of running with limited rest and water breaks,” according to the document, which detailed a practice that reportedly included 11 down-and-back sprints, a series of four sprints in which players had to run the length of the court six times in 33 seconds or less (a “33”), and then a sprint that required players to run the width of the court 17 times in 60 seconds or less (a “17”).
One athlete reportedly “went to the floor” after the first “17,” and when the athletes who didn’t run the “17” in 60 seconds or less were forced to run another one, “several athletes did not make the time” and two more athletes “went to the ground,” including one who reportedly passed out, according to the document. The other athlete who reportedly went to the ground was reportedly dizzy.
The document alleges that after one of the players who went to the ground was taken to the trainer’s table and provided oxygen, Brannen reportedly walked by and allegedly said, “Tapping out.” The document also alleges that on another occasion at a practice in October, Brannen allegedly once said to his players in a huddle, “Fuck the heart rate monitors, I know what in-shape is.”
A University of Cincinnati spokesperson declined to comment. Out of Bounds also offered Brannen’s attorney, Tom Mars, the opportunity to comment on the allegations outlined in the document. Mars provided the following comment:
I can tell you that Coach Brannen disputes what you did share with me about the document. What’s more, none of what you shared with me by describing certain comments in the document I haven’t seen seems at all consistent with screenshots of text messages I have that wert sent to Coach Brannen by an Assistant Athletic Trainer in the Sports Medicine section of UC’s Athletics Department. These text messages couldn’t be more at odds with what you told me was in the document you’ve been given. For example, the athletic trainer tells Coach Brannen on January 18, 2021 @ 9:27 pm that his players have a “if you don’t feel good, don’t practice” mentality and then says “these guys just encourage each other not to practice if they don’t feel good or something hurts.” There are other text messages from the trainer to Coach Brannen with similar observations about the team as a whole and certain individual players. I can’t comment on a document I haven’t seen, but I can sure read these text messages and tell you they’re totally inconsistent with whatever document you have.
Below is a copy of Brannen’s statement from the day he was fired, which is his most recent post on Twitter.
One entry in the document, dated Aug. 7, 2020, referenced an individual, whose name was redacted by the university, who reportedly “felt Brannen was asking him to ‘spy’ on guys and weight room,” who allegedly “had been lied too (sic) on several occasions,” and who reportedly “feels that Brannen wants to be a dictator,” according to the document. The individual whose name is redacted was presumably a player, since university employees’ names appear in the document and since a senior assistant general counsel for the university noted that the university redacted identifying student information from the document.
According to the document, the day before the date of the entry, on Aug. 6, 2020, Brannen allegedly made multiple phone calls to someone, whose name was redacted, who reportedly recalled to the author of the document that Brannen had allegedly said on the phone, “I need to know. I need to know what’s going on down there. You need to tell me what’s going on.” The individual reportedly told Brannen “that the players are concerned about the Covid issue and the fact that their time is not being respected,” according to the document. Brannen allegedly asked, “Who told compliance?” and then Brannen’s phone call with the redacted individual reportedly ended after that, according to the document.
After a meeting with Brannen on Aug. 11, 2020, the author of the document wrote that the meeting reportedly finished with Brannen allegedly “asking me to assist him with being ‘an ear to the ground.’” Brannen allegedly said multiple times that he was really upset that someone called compliance and he allegedly told the author of the document, “You should know, somebody should know who did it,” according to the document. Brannen allegedly told the author of the document not to allow any complaining or discussion, according to the document.
The author of the document wrote that on Aug. 27, 2020, Brannen “sent me the exact conditioning he wanted the team to do,” and the document’s author wrote, “my understanding … is that coaches were not allowed to conduct conditioning sessions with student athletes. I made it clear that I had signed a policy stating such.” The author wrote in the document that the conditioning workouts provided by Brannen via email were “random and poorly planned,” and that when Brannen was reportedly asked about a conditioning test that could be used as an indicator that athletes were ready to start practice, Brannen allegedly “seemed disorganized and unsure of what he wanted or expected,” according to the document.
After a meeting with Brannen on Sept. 1, 2020, the author of the document wrote, “Brannen does not want the guys getting water during rest. Or getting very little. He states that it is a fight with sports medicine, regarding water allowed.”
After a practice that day, the author of the document reportedly met with Brannen for about 10 minutes and Brannen allegedly said that he knows his conditioning plan works and that this was the first time he had let someone else run his team, according to the document. When the author of the document returned to the author’s office, the author reportedly received a text message from Brannen to call him. According to the document’s author, “Coach Brannen then told me he needed me to stay at work and walk through training room to see if [Associate Athletics Director of Sports Medicine] Bob Mangine is in the training room. Coach Brannen said he would text me when to walk through. I was very confused and stressed by this assignment from Coach Brannen. Coach Brannen has frequently said that we … cannot trust anyone outside of the basketball staff and I feel as if Coach Brannen’s order for me to walk in the training room is sneaky and unethical.”
The next day, during a meeting with Brannen, Brannen allegedly wanted the author of the document to “not tell the athletes what they have to run (i.e. distance) until the second before, cannot tell them rest times, only say ‘15 seconds, then back on the line’ cannot tell the athletes the time to make the prescribed distance. If a student athlete bends over, they have immediate punishment. He never wants them to know what is coming, he wants ‘the fear of the unknown,’” according to the document.
On Oct. 6, 2020, Brannen reportedly led a practice that included 11 down-and-back sprints and “a lot of running with limited rest and water breaks,” according to the document. Brannen reportedly told the players they had to make 17 out of 22 free throws, but that the first miss counted as two misses, according to the document. “When the goal became unattainable, the athletes had to run a ‘33’ which is 6 court lengths in 33 seconds,” according to the document. “They ran 4 of these. During the last free [throw] attempts, John Brannen called to me to him on the practice court. He asked, ‘What is the time for a 17?’ Meaning 17 court widths. I answered traditionally, 60 seconds.”
The players reportedly missed their free throw goal again and Brannen allegedly said, “Sideline” to indicate that they had to run, according to the document. Someone reportedly put 60 seconds on the clock and after the time reportedly expired, Brannen allegedly said the names of the players who had made it in time, followed by “Those who missed, back up,” according to the document, so the athletes who didn’t run the 17 court widths in time then allegedly had to run another “17.”
“Before this sprint, [redacted] went to the floor with a [redacted],” the author of the document wrote. “After time expired on the second sprint, several athletes did not make the time and 2 more student athletes, went to the ground. [Redacted] has [redacted] became dizzy and [redacted], passed out. After getting [redacted] the trainer’s table and on oxygen, John Brannen walked by and said, ‘tapping out.’ [Redacted] very affected by this as is showed (sic) that John Brannen did not care about his health, questioned his character and integrity. John Brannen called me that night and asked what happened to [redacted]. [Redacted] had him dizzy and [redacted] passed out. He stated that the athletes shouldn’t be laying on the floor and that we needed to get them in shape.”
The day after the practice in which three athletes allegedly went to the ground, collapsed or passed out, the author of the document reportedly met with an assistant coach and the author of the document wrote that Brannen allegedly used a free throw drill “where the goal shooting percentage would be very difficult to achieve … so that he could run the team more,” according to the document. The assistant coach “states that sports medicine is not behind Coach Brannen and his methodology and that it is ‘bull crap,’” and that the assistant coach “believes it is a problem that Bob doesn’t agree with the head coach’s methods,” according to the document.
Also on the day after the “17” sprints, Brannen reportedly led what the document described as a culture meeting with the team in which mental toughness and emotions were reportedly discussed. Brannen “discusses that the team didn’t show discipline the day before,” according to the document. The author of the document wrote that Brannen allegedly discussed “BCD-blame, complain, defend” and that Brannen allegedly “uses an athletes complaining to justify his response of yelling and cursing.”
“The team is running for a mistake [redacted], but [redacted] unaware that he had even made a mistake,” the author of the document wrote, regarding one sequence from practice that the team watched on film.
The entry on the document about the “culture meeting” concluded with the author writing, “Brannen asks the athletes if there is anything else that would get in the way of season and concludes the meeting.”
At a meeting on Oct. 12, 2020, Brannen was allegedly frustrated that players were missing practice due to injuries and he reportedly stated that he needed to be aware of their statuses, according to the document. An assistant coach reportedly asked if athletic trainers send emails and “Brannen says yes but he does not want anything in writing,” according to the document. “Because ‘there is no flexibility in writing.’ He states he liked to operate in that grey area.”
Two days later, Brannen reportedly told the author of the document that he wanted the author of the document to be “more visible” at practice, “specifically at water breaks to hear what they are saying and tell him after practice,” according to the document.
On Oct. 16, 2020, Brannen allegedly told the author of the document to keep an eye on an athletic trainer “as he doesn’t trust him,” according to the document, and Brannen allegedly said that the author of the document needed to stay “a step ahead” of the trainer and report back to Brannen. The author of the document wrote, “He tells me that I am doing a good job and the guys really like me. SIDE: (I feel that this is clearly an attempt to manipulate me to do what he wants).”
At a team breakfast on Oct. 26, 2020, Cincinnati players were reportedly upset because Brannen had allegedly told them in a huddle in practice the previous day, “Fuck the heart rate monitors, I know what in-shape is,” according to the document. At practice that day, Brannen allegedly yelled something to the effect of – which the author of the document acknowledged was an attempt at paraphrasing Brannen’s alleged words – “All the finger pricks and monitors and they tell me we’re in shape, but we aren’t,” according to the document.
Of that alleged statement, the author of the document wrote, “These measures are used to ensure student-athlete HEALTH and clearly John Brannen is more concerned with what he wants and not SA health.” At a team breakfast the next day, the players reportedly discussed Brannen’s alleged comments from the day before and “they feel that he is mocking staff and SA health,” according to the document.
On Oct. 27, 2020, which marked the third consecutive day of practice, an athletic department employee allegedly discussed with Brannen that in order to allow for athletes to recover, the program’s scheduling should be “practice, practice, 60-80% of previous day practice, practice, off, repeat,” according to the document. The author of the document believed that because the program’s practice load reportedly hadn’t been decreased during consecutive practice days, as outlined, “this led to the aches and pains of some student-athletes and the presence of over-exertion symptoms,” according to the document. After practice, Brannen allegedly pulled aside one of the players who had reportedly either gone to the floor or passed out at the practice in early October and the player allegedly said afterward, “Coach tried to make me feel like shit again for going down, he (John Brannen) says I don’t do the right things, and [redacted] like Coach, I do everything right to recover and prepare and he (John Brannen) so (sic) No you don’t,” according to the document.
The next day, the player allegedly said, “I’m still pissed at what Coach said,” according to the document.
At a meeting on Nov. 11, 2020, Brannen allegedly started a meeting with the author of the document by asking, “Did [John] Cunningham meet with you?” according to the document. Brannen allegedly said that Cunningham told Brannen that he had met with members of the strength staff about the Oct. 6 practice, where multiple players had allegedly gone to the floor, collapsed or passed out after the series of sprints.
The Cincinnati Enquirer reported that Cunningham sent Brannen a written reprimand on Nov. 9, 2020.
According to the document obtained by Out of Bounds, at least one athletic department employee had reportedly been instructed that, if asked, to not tell Brannen that he or she had met with Cunningham.
“Brannen then informed me that he (Cunningham) had written him up,” the author of the document wrote. “Brannen likened it to a CYA (Cover Your Ass). Brannen said that it was not a big deal but, they (administration) were making it a big deal.”
After the meeting with Brannen, the author of the document wrote:
After this meeting, I felt that either A) Brannen had lied to me about what Cunningham had told him or B) Cunningham had told John Brannen that we had spoken. I was very anxious over this situation because I felt I would be caught in the middle. On several occasions, John Brannen … had told me that if he didn’t trust someone, they would be fired … I felt that I was in a position to get fired by John Brannen or by UC administration. At this time, I began to avoid any meetings with John Brannen and staff.
In the list of questions provided to Cunningham and a University of Cincinnati athletic department spokesperson, Out of Bounds asked if Cunningham had indeed informed Brannen of the athletic department employee’s conversation with Cunningham, and if there is currently a culture of trust within the University of Cincinnati’s athletic department. The University of Cincinnati spokesperson declined to comment.
At a meeting on Dec. 11, 2020, Brannen allegedly asked an athletic department employee about “the one who ‘called us out on the hours.’ (Referring to the third violation regarding CARA hours),” according to the document.
During a team film session on Dec. 17, 2020, which was the day after a three-point loss at home to South Florida, Brannen allegedly told the team it was the worst coached basketball game he had ever been a part of, according to the document. Brannen allegedly cited a practice where he allegedly got into a verbal argument with several players because “he chose not to schedule games against certain opponents,” according to the document. “Brannen then tells the team that they are not tough and cites reasons he believes this to be true. He continues with a tirade about the USF game and tells team and staff, if we don’t take ownership, then we should ‘fucking leave.’”
Later in the film session, Brannen allegedly told players to take “a fucking opt-out year” and “opt the fuck out,” according to the document. “He states that ‘we are going to play my [way] or you will be fucking miserable.’”
Under a heading titled “Other meetings,” the author of the document wrote, “John Brannen has stated that the administration and sports medicine [staff] could not be trusted.” Brannen allegedly told men’s basketball staff members that they should only talk to him or the other staff members, and to do so in his office only, according to the document.
The last dated entry in the document was from Dec. 17, 2020 and almost four months later, he was fired after coaching 53 games at the university. In a letter that was sent to athletic department employees in an email and published online for Cincinnati fans the afternoon Brannen was fired, Cunningham wrote, “Ultimately, the University is acting in the best interests of our student-athletes and of the institution, and this decision is reflective of our commitment to both, as well as to our values that we hold dear.”
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“My assumption is the physical asset is a bigger draw as long as it’s something of legitimate value. In particular in this case where it’s a signed pair of shoes from the game that’s got real significant value it’s going to bring in more bidders. I think it’s a mistake to write off the NFT as a simple tool to sell the shoes. If Jalen becomes the All-Star level player many believe he will then owning the first-ever NFT he released will have value [in my opinion]. The physical add-ons open up the bidding process to people who would otherwise not bid on the NFT, so I think it’s smart for players to bring together people who are into NFTs and physical collectors to increase demand.”
Thank you for reading this edition of Out of Bounds with Andy Wittry. If you enjoyed it, please consider sharing it on social media or sending it to a friend or colleague. Questions, comments and feedback are welcome at andrew [dot] wittry [at] gmail [dot] com or on Twitter.