By Christian Hince | February 24, 2023
Athletic director Mark Benson speaking at a press conference in April 2016.
Photo credit: Lori Van Buren, Times Union
The University at Albany’s athletic director, Mark Benson, is no longer named as a defendant in a lawsuit filed by ex-men’s basketball player, Luke Fizulich, in connection with a November 2021 locker room altercation involving head coach Dwayne Killings, as first reported by the Times Union.
Originally filed on Nov. 14, 2022, the now-amended lawsuit included Coach Killings, Benson, and the university in a filing that alleged the coach “violently and viciously grabbed him, threw him up against a locker and struck him in the face, drawing blood,” before a game against Eastern Illinois at 2021’s Eastern Kentucky Invitational. Fizulich left the team after the 2021-22 season ended.
The suit was amended last week in response to a Jan. 20 motion filed by the New York Attorney General’s Office, which requested the dismissal of multiple counts within the suit against the three defendants. This included a “breach of contract” count directed towards Benson.
The initial lawsuit claimed the athletic director “violated SUNY Albany’s zero tolerance Violence Prevention Policy” after reversing a reported decision to fire Killings after the incident. In rebuttal, the January motion stated that Benson, a state government official representing SUNY, is exempt by the 11th Amendment from being a defendant in a private lawsuit. The updated count now lists UAlbany as the defendant rather than the athletic director.
The state’s motion also challenged the lawsuit’s allegations of racial discrimination. With Fizulich being a white male, the lawsuit accuses the university and originally Benson of keeping Killings for his role as a leader of “young Black males,” mentioning a protest on Mar. 30, 2022 held by local business and civil rights leaders.
The motion stated that complaints from Fizulich towards the university regarding racial discrimination in the incident were “conspicuously absent.” To this, the amended suit mentioned how Fizulich tried to contact the university “multiple times” from April 1 to 3, leaving “voicemails to discuss the discriminatory decision.” It alleges that the school responded via email on the 4th, declining his request to discuss anything “outside of what is in the public domain.”
Part of the motion’s request to dismiss the count against Benson addressed the matter of Killings’ specific form of punishment. It stated that Fizulich had no “specific contractual right to a particular outcome” with regards to whether the coach was retained or not.
In response, the amended suit specifically addresses how the specific decision to keep Killings negatively affected Fizulich, causing him “a tremendous amount of harm and essentially freezing him out of playing collegiate basketball.”
The amended suit also mentions that the “University at Albany Foundation named a member of the civil rights group who advocated for Defendant Killings” as one of their 2022 Citizen Laureates. Alice Green, the executive director of the Center for Law and Justice, was the only named Citizen Laureate who spoke for Killings at the March 2022 protest.
These matters have unfolded during a much maligned sophomore campaign for Coach Killings. His group ranks last in the America East at 2-12 in conference, holding a 7-22 overall record and the highest UAlbany loss total since 2010. To participate in the conference playoffs, the Great Danes need to win both of their remaining games and NJIT to lose both of their remaining two, one of them being at UAlbany this Saturday.