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Former SDSU Women's Basketball Coach Beth Burns Gets Day in Court

Burns alleges she was terminated in retaliation for insisting the women's program be given equal treatment. SDSU purports she struck her assistant with a clipboard, and that assistant sued the university.

Coach Beth Burns with Aztecs forward Allison Duffy
Coach Beth Burns with Aztecs forward Allison Duffy
Photo by Jim Clouse

San Diego State University's winningest women's basketball coach, Beth Burns, will have her day in San Diego Superior Court this Friday, August 26th, for a wrongful termination suit launched against the school. Burns quit abruptly in April of 2013 -- shortly after delivering the university's record 27-win season.

If you don't know Beth Burns or her successful coaching background, here's a summary.

Burns, 58, of Chatham, New Jersey, played college ball at Ohio Wesleyan before entering coaching. She started her head-coaching career with the Aztecs in 1989. She stayed for eight seasons before moving on to Ohio State, where she coached from 1997-2002. In 2000, she led the Buckeyes to a WNIT championship.

After her contract was not renewed at OSU, Burns returned to San Diego State in 2005, leading the team to an eight-year run of success. In 2010, the Aztecs made the NCAA Tourney's Sweet Sixteen, where they upset 6-seed Texas and 3-seed W. Virginia. In 2013, Burns led SDSU to a program-best 27 wins and its second straight Mountain West Conference championship. She was named MW Coach of the year in 2012-2013.

Today, Beth Burns is Associate Head Coach for the Pac-12 USC Trojans under Cynthia Cooper-Dyke.

According to the San Diego Reader, Burns claimed the university fired her in retaliation for her insistent demands that the women's program be given the same treatment as the men's basketball program.

In her complaint, Burns says SDSU Athletic Director Jim Sterk (who on August 16 accepted a job at the University of Missouri) gave Burns an ultimatum: quit, retire, or be terminated. According to Burns's complaint, Sterk alleged Burns slapped assistant head coach Adam Barrett with her clipboard and elbowed him in the shoulder during a 2013 game against Colorado State, as reported in the Union-Tribune.

Soon after the Barrett allegation was made, video footage emerged on the internet illustrating the clipboard incident, evidencing the allegation. Adam Barrett and his attorney sued SDSU over the incident, and successfully settled for $250K.

While Burns was Head Coach at Ohio State University, despite bringing moderate success, her contract was not renewed after five years.

According to BG News, then Ohio State athletic director Andy Geiger stated "It's just an overall feeling that we need to go in a different direction for the overall welfare of the program."

Concerns pointed to many of Burns' most acclaimed recruits - including LaToya Turner, a former Ms. Basketball in Ohio, guard Tanya McClure and guard Caity Matter- sustaining injuries which either shortened their careers or limited their effectiveness. There was also her controversial removal of star player Michaela Moua, who was quickly reinstated by Geiger.

Geiger declined to answer when asked if the players had become prone to injury because Burns worked them too hard in practice.

Two sharply contrasting perspectives dominate the wrongful termination lawsuit.

SDSU, stands firm that Burns physically struck her assistant coach, who subsequently filed a successful suit against the University, leading to Sterk's issuance of the ultimatum. SDSU purportedly made a swift decision toward the ultimatum upon the surfacing of the video footage showing Burns hitting the assistant.

Beth Burns' camp alleges that the Adam Barrett incident was a ruse. The February 2014 lawsuit states, "In a feeble attempt to cover up the real reason for firing her, SDSU fabricated a pretextual explanation for her termination that was intentionally and devastatingly harmful to her." The lawsuit suggests there was intent by SDSU to part ways with a coach for demanding equal pay to for women.

It is notable that Burns's departure took place during the same month that Rutgers University coach Mike Rice appeared in a viral video showing him striking players with basketballs. Rutgers received strong negative national press for hesitating to terminate Rice immediately after the video surfaced.

This week, Beth Burns's case will be heard. A determination will be made upon whether or not a wrongful termination had occurred.