Isiah Thomas’ fledgling basketball program at Florida International University has threatened to pull out of the Coaches vs. Cancer tournament in November if it has to play North Carolina in the opening game, the school’s athletic director told Yahoo! Sports on Tuesday.
Pete Garcia, FIU’s athletic director, said the school had agreed to open the tournament against Ohio State “months earlier,” but was not informed of a possible schedule change until receiving an email on Tuesday from the Gazelle Group, which is running the event. Garcia said FIU will participate in the tournament only if it plays the Buckeyes.
“We are pulling out of the tournament unless they fix it,” Garcia said. “We want to play Ohio State. We have some strong alumni ties in Ohio. If not, we don’t want to play.”
Garcia initially told Yahoo! Sports that he planned to inform the Gazelle Group by email that FIU would not play because he couldn't reach the tournament organizers by phone. But the two sides spoke later in the day.
Rick Giles, president of the Gazelle Group, said the Panthers are contractually obligated to play the Tar Heels.
"It's purely simple. We have a contract with them and we decide who they play," Giles told Yahoo! Sports by phone. "The contract says they will play either Ohio State or North Carolina. It goes back to November 2008. They expressed a preference of Ohio State, not North Carolina.
"We've scheduled hundreds and hundreds of teams. Teams have preferences. But the final decision is with us."
Giles said that Gazelle has never experienced a similar issue in its 15 years of organizing tournaments. He also said FIU's contract does not have an "opt-out" clause.
"They don't get to schedule the entire tournament," Giles said. "I'm not sure what their motivation is or why they would or should try to break a contract or if it's because of them, the AD or Isiah getting their way.
"We expect them to play in the tournament like everyone else. To threaten to pull out when they're not getting their way is not how it's done."
Giles said Garcia expressed his disappointment during their phone conversation. But Giles also expects FIU to fulfill terms of the contract.
"They will realize what the right thing to do is," Giles said.
FIU’s opener at the Coaches vs. Cancer tournament, scheduled for Nov. 9, would be Thomas’ first game as the Panthers’ coach.