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Sports >  WSU football

Commentary: Even if Nick Rolovich’s lawsuit is successful, Washington State comes out ahead: The saga is over.

UPDATED: Thu., Oct. 21, 2021

By Jon Wilner Bay Area News Group

The only surprising aspect of Nick Rolovich’s planned lawsuit against Washington State was that the terminated coach and his attorney needed 36 hours to go public with their intentions.

Rolovich was fired Monday afternoon for failing to comply with the Washington state vaccine mandate, but his attorney, Brian Fahling, didn’t announce litigation plans until Wednesday morning.

What took so long?

The unvaccinated Rolovich surely has had legal action in mind since early August, when Washington Gov. Jay Inslee announced the mandate and set the Oct. 18 deadline.

Maybe Rolovich, who is Catholic, didn’t think Washington State would follow through with the dismissal if his request for a religious exemption was denied in the university’s blind review process.

But if that’s the case, he was living in a bunker somewhere. Defying Inslee’s order in any fashion could have massive political and financial ramifications for the university.

Fahling’s statement called the dismissal “unjust and unlawful” and indicated Rolovich would take legal action “against all parties responsible for his illegal termination.”

The Cougars (4-3/3-2 Pac-12) have a better chance to win the Pac-12 championship than Rolovich has to win the lawsuit. Here’s why:

• We’re not sure how deep Rolovich’s religious convictions run, but we hear Pope Francis is a pretty religious guy. He not only approves of the COVID vaccine but has advocated for it.

The Pope called it “an act of love” in an August appeal to Catholics everywhere to get vaccinated.

• Fahling’s statement takes specific aim at WSU athletic director Pat Chun, claiming “discriminatory and vindicative [sic] behavior.”

It says Rolovich “has been derided, demonized, and ultimately fired from his job, merely for being devout in his Catholic faith.”

It says Chun held “animus towards Coach Rolovich’s sincerely held religious beliefs.”

We find that a curious approach for Team Rolovich considering that Chun himself is Catholic – baptized and confirmed, in fact – according to a source close to the athletic director.

Also, Chun’s wife is Catholic; his children are being raised Catholic; and he attended 12 years of Catholic school.

It would appear Rolovich and Fahling crafted the statement not in the attorney’s Kenmore, Washington, offices but, rather, in a theater of the absurd.

• Purely from a legal standpoint, it’s difficult to envision how Rolovich’s dismissal could be deemed unlawful in court.

WSU is a state institution that carried out a state mandate and worked with the state attorney general’s office to establish a process for evaluating exemption requests from, um, state employees.

Rolovich’s exemption request had all identifying information (name, department, etc.) removed and was reviewed by a panel trained to make evaluations.

• Also, Section 1.2.1 of Rolovich’s contract says he must comply with university policy:

“Employee agrees to devote Employee’s best efforts to the performance of their duties for the University, and to comply with and support all rules, regulations, policies, and decisions established or issued by the University.”

In this case, the state mandate and university policy are one in the same – hence the decision to fire Rolovich with cause.

Admittedly, the Hotline has no legal training – only a speck of common sense. So we asked an attorney familiar with the saga in Pullman for his view of Rolovich’s legal plans.

His response, via email:

“The question of the legality of vaccine mandates seems to be well-settled law by the Supreme Court more than 100 years ago in Jacobson v. Massachusetts, with Justice Harlan concluding that ‘real liberty’ does not permit an individual to exercise their own freedoms ‘at the expense of injury that may be done to others.’

“From a pragmatic standpoint, years may go by before a case and appeals are adjudicated, when COVID is hopefully out of most people’s everyday thoughts.”

But let’s imagine a scenario in which Rolovich wins his case.

And let’s say the Cougars are forced to compensate Rolovich as if he had been fired without cause.

According to his contract, they would owe him approximately $3.6 million – or 60% of his remaining base pay through the expiration of the deal in the summer of 2025.

Even then, the university still wins.

It wins because the three-month ordeal is over, because the constant distractions are no more and because those ghastly optics have been vanquished:

Rolovich in his mask on the sideline with the cameras rolling.

Rolovich sheepishly mumbling through answers at news conferences.

Rolovich repeatedly declining to explain his reasons for not getting vaccinated.

Rolovich unable to rise to the level of accountability his job required, unwilling to show a morsel of leadership, incapable of placing the greater good above personal preference and refusing to follow the lead of the head of his church and treat the vaccine as “an act of love.”

Whatever happens with the lawsuit, Washington State has won.

Rolovich is gone.

The nightmare is over.

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