Western Kentucky Swimming and Diving Program Suspended For Five Years; Bruce Marchionda Fired

Photo Courtesy: Western Kentucky University

The Western Kentucky University swimming and diving teams will not exist for five years, the result of a police investigation that found evidence of sexual misconduct and harassment.

A release by the Western Kentucky Athletics department did not go further into the details of the allegations, only to say that the charges in question were brought up by a former student-athlete. An article in the Louisville Courier-Journal, however, noted that charges of hazing, sexual assault and drug use were brought up by former swimmer Collin Craig. The investigation involved the Bowling Green Police Department and the university’s Title IX Department, and found beer kegs, drug paraphernalia and photos detailing various acts of sexual assault.

The Courier-Journal article also mentions that the coaching staff was aware of the misconduct. Head swimming coaches Bruce Marchionda and Brian Thomas, as well as head diving coach Chelsea Ale will keep their jobs until June 30, according to the university. This raises an issue for Olympian swimmer Claire Donahue, a WKU standout now training there as a postgrad. With Marchionda unable to coach the college team, it is unclear now if the USA Swimming program will still exist. Donahue is a part of USA Swimming’s world championship team competing in Russia this August.

Current student-athletes will be able to transfer to another school without penalty, Athletics Director Todd Stewart said. Those who remain at WKU will keep their scholarships.

Below is the full release from Western Kentucky University:

Effective immediately, Western Kentucky University has suspended its intercollegiate swimming and diving program for five years, the University announced today. The 50-plus team members and coaches were informed of the decision this morning by WKU President Gary Ransdell and Director of Athletics Todd Stewart.

“This is a very difficult and unfortunate decision on many levels,” Stewart said. “While many in the program have represented WKU with distinction, the overall findings of a consistent pattern of disappointing conduct is troubling and not acceptable at WKU.

“Current student-athletes in the program will certainly be allowed to transfer immediately to another institution,” he said. “If they choose to remain a student at WKU, their current scholarship amounts will be honored through their senior years provided they remain in good academic and university standing.”

Positions for Head Coach Bruce Marchionda, Associate Head Coach Brian Thomas and Head Diving Coach Chelsea Ale will be eliminated June 30.

“We have high standards for student conduct and conduct of our student organizations,” President Ransdell said. “The pervasive culture of misconduct in the swimming and diving program is intolerable. A five-year suspension is both necessary and prudent.”

The decision comes after an investigation into complaints brought by a former team member. The investigation by the Bowling Green Police Department and WKU’s Title IX Coordinator Huda Melky found evidence of violations of WKU’s Student Code of Conduct, Discrimination and Harassment Policy and Title IX Sexual Misconduct/Assault Policy.

These actions have been taken in response to the findings that related to the swimming and diving program and the coaching staff. The Office of Judicial Affairs will handle matters related to the alleged violations of the student code of conduct, in accordance with the University’s Judicial Process.

WKU officials will have no further comment.

44 Comments

44 comments

  1. Gordon Heck

    Just an excuse to ax a non-revenue sport and save a few bucks. Underage drinking? Ermergherd. Disparaging pictures with (admittedly) bad words written on them? Ermergherd. Making the freshmen do calisthenics? Ermergherd.

    • Greg Gillette

      Taking photos of a passed out female who’s underwear has been pulled down? Writing racist slurs on the foreheads of passed out people?

    • Gordon Heck

      First, “whose underwear has been pulled down”. Correct me if I wrong, but I haven’t read anything about the context of that photo. It very well could be that she was drunk, using the restroom (hence why the panties were down), and then passed out. The photo, then, becomes a laugh (for her as well) the next day.

      I’m not going to defend the racist thing, but deal with that jackass on his own. Is the proper punishment for this to ax the entire program? By that logic, any number of football and basketball teams should be axed.

      Fire the coach, suspend the offenders, yes. The team didn’t do themselves any favors, but the university is clearly just using this as an excuse to cut a program in order to save a few bucks. They might bring back the women’s team for Title IX reasons, but yet another men’s team is finished. Ridiculous.

      • avatar
        AvantSwim

        You are a wonderful apologist for this disgusting gang and their criminal behaviour.

      • avatar
        Connie

        It amazes me how strong comments come in from people that don’t have a clue. 95% of these kids are great people. There is an article in the Herald yesterday about a swimmer who is heading up a drive to recruit transplant donors. These kids are awesome kids and to say they are a “disgusting group” makes me even sadder for them. What is wrong with you?

      • avatar
        AvantSwim

        Connie: you can defend hazers all you want; I will not join you in that. The “disgusting gang and their criminal behavior” refers directly to those who did these crimes of harrassment, intimidation, and sexual harassment–not to mention the lesser chargers of drug and underage alcohol use–as well as those who knew about this and did nothing. I am clearly not speaking of those who are innocent. If the coach knew by 2012, so did many of the swimmers. In fact, many are coming forward about what they knew. You can call them “awesome” if you like, but I refuse to join you in your moral landslide, thanks.

      • avatar
        Guest

        Connie,

        I read the police report. It looks like more than half of the team participated in the hazing – so your 95% of the team are good kids theory is a pile of bunk. They are animals.

      • avatar
        Tom

        AvantSwim – I was a swimmer for WKU and just graduated last May, I know all the swimmers that were on the team this past year (and the past 5 years), to say this is a disgusting group is completely insulting to not only me, but to all the people involved with the team. You have no idea who we all are and what involvement we have with the community. We have a swimmer on the team that took weeks out of training so he could donate bone marrow to a women in need, we host swim lessons for kids all over Bowling Green, getting them comfortable around water, or develop their skills to be able to compete with local club teams. I personally had a kid and his mom come to all the home meets to support me on my races. Without the team you can say good bye to the swim lessons for the kids (which definitely saddens me). And you cant honestly tell me that no other swim program on a team goes out and party on the weekends, its gives the athletes a sense of release from a very stressful week of workouts and classes. Underage drinking happens to not only ALL sports teams, but with students around the country, so that cant be an excuse at all either.

        Connie – on behalf of me and all the people involved with WKU swimming, we definitely appreciate the support. The coaching staff is amazing and I cant tell you how sad I am that they are effected by this outcome as well. They are great people who wanted to see all the swimmers in the program succeed and leave the team knowing they gave it their all. The swimmers are amazing people too, they not only supported me when I was swimming there but I also got support from everyone on the team when I was actually comfortable coming out of the closet. They would even support me in instances where football players had come to a swim party and threw homophobic slurs at me and my boyfriend. This was a very sad week for USA Swimming, I wish the administration hadnt done what they did to this community.

  2. avatar
    Steve Schaffer

    Wrong. This was a Title IX violation – something that any organization must deal with seriously. It far transcends “underage drinking” and “disparaging pictures”. College swimming programs that maintain traditions of hazing need to seriously examine their traditions. College programs will come under more and more scrutiny as athletic budgets tighten to meet the needs of funding Full Cost of Attendance and other new programs coming out of the NCAA governance changes. NO AD is going to continue to fund a program that brings negative publicity to the institution.

    Rather than having a sense of entitlement for the existence of their programs, scholarships, and operating budgets, college swimmers and coaches would do well to embrace a sense of gratitude for what they have and behave in ways that brings nothing but positive recognition to their programs and immediately call out and put a stop to any behavior that will threaten their programs. Even if a minority of the team, the bad behavior of a few CAN bring down a program.

    Make decisions and act as if the survival of your program is at stake, because it very well could be.

  3. Steve Morgan

    Corrrect. Clemson did it to Wrestling. Schools should have to field each Olympic sport at a minimum. Then be placed in Conferences based on how the whole program ranks nationally.

    • avatar
      TJ

      Clemson wrestling was cut because the coach wrestled an athlete under a different name in a national tournament. Clemson did not want to deal with the penalties from NCAA so they cut the program. It was either between swimming or wrestling at that time. That is the reason why Clemson swimming was saved for a little while. I know because I was there.

    • avatar
      Steve Schaffer

      I’m sorry, but why “should” schools “have to field each Olympic sport at a minimum”? It would certainly be nice, but they have no obligation to – it’s their money. Those of us involved with swimming and other Olympic Sports would do well to lose the sense of entitlement and develop a sense of gratitude. Universities are not obligated to support our sports. We need to be grateful that they do and act/support the programs accordingly.

  4. Brandon Norman

    Gareth Becker BMS situation with swimming

  5. Mandi Bell

    What terrible news. I swam exhibition at WKU when I went to school there (no girls team at the time). This hurts my heart.

  6. avatar
    JefftheSwimmer

    It sounds like there was a good deal of Criminal behavior involved. Why no charges pressed? Why no firing of the coaches who ignored it all – thereby basically condoning the various behavior and events? Why not boot the kids directly involved. And then why not hire new coaches and radically shift the culture? It sounds to me like everybody involved got a major break. This is a good example outside of DI football and basketball of a various levels of administration within an institution not doing their jobs. Reprehensible.

    • avatar
      Steve Schaffer

      This was a Title IX violation. The coaches were fired. I believe that they are gone effective the end of their contracts in June. The behaviors were apparently so pervasive that it required shutting the program down and letting everyone graduate out. A new coach coming in would have a near impossible task of changing the sub-culture that has been described. As bad as it is to lose a program, I do not see where the administration could do much less. Title IX violations require the university act to protect students from similar violations in the future.

    • avatar
      geri

      At no place in all of the questioning did the coach admit that he was aware of the hazing. He did admit he knew of the drinking and had sessions against underage drinking. What he knew and he should have known is two different things.

  7. avatar
    bess swanson

    usa swimming: why call out Collin Craig as the informant? what purpose does it serve?

  8. Katia Alyabyeva

    Good job cutting yet another swim team, for the sake of game sports.
    No one is “investigating” football teams clearly..

  9. avatar
    Emilie Smith

    Though there is no excuse for hazing of any kind, it is ironic that all sources withheld the information that the student who brought up these allegations actually flunked out of WKU. Regardless, why punish the hardworking athletes who were un-involved and who worked their entire lives to reach this point in their swim career? Ridiculous.

    • avatar
      Guest

      If the student didn’t do well academically and after reading what happened, do you REALLY HAVE TO WONDER WHY????? Keep the focus on the disgusting behavior of the upperclassmen and the coaches who looked the other way.

      Maybe the reason the entire team has to be “punished” is because rather than doing something about what they knew was going on, they allowed it to continue. Which is NO different than what the coaches did.

      That is ridiculous.

    • avatar
      AvantSwim

      Sure, but remember that ultimately it is the coaching staff and team captains who are to blame for this punishment. Please, don’t blame the victim: his academic record has nothing to do with this.

  10. avatar
    Connie

    This has been such a sad day in the lives of WKU Swimmers. I don’t know any details, but I do know that the subculture referenced in the article is not just one of the swim team. How do 3 coaches take the responsibility of 70 kids and deflect and change a culture that is bigger than just one team and one school? They may be the ones being punished, but I think the punishment lies with the entire school. Rules need to be in place school wide and enforcement strict. These coaches are great people and now their reputations are tarnished. I know that they agonize over the kids year after year and this just breaks my heart for them. `Thank you Bruce, Brian, Danielle & Chelsea for being the great coaches that you are and for being the great people that you are.

    • avatar
      Guest

      The way a coach takes control of the situation is to let the team know hazing is not tolerated. Then when a report of hazing is known to have occurred to kick the swimmers off the team. Problem solved. Message received.

    • avatar
      AvantSwim

      By your logic, Connie, because this despicable behavior is not limited to swimming then I guess we should do nothing! Nice one.

    • avatar
      Guest

      I hope you mean you feel sorry for the freshman swimmers because if visiting recruitments knew what was going on, I can guarantee you all the swimmers at WKU knew what was going on.

      Knowing and not doing anything about it is no different than the coaches ignoring it.

      • avatar
        AvantSwim

        Agreed, Guest. The “great” and “caring” coaches that Connie mentions above are 100% responsible for the loss of their team, as well as the sickening and criminal culture that was allowed to flourish under their stewardship.

  11. Jocelyne Humbert O

    Punish the rotten apples not the sport, football, baseball would not be treated this way.
    Destroy a program for behavior issues is wrong. Prosecute the guilty

    • Robert Bauchwitz

      I feel bad I’m limited to only one like on this comment.

  12. Katie DeSantis LaPorta

    This unfortunate Issue is brought forward by a former student. Suspending the program for 5 years not only ASSUMES the offenses continue but literally punishes students not even in high school yet! Punish those involved, replace the coaches if appropriate and let the program continue under probationary watch. Pray to God that students are kept safe always

    • avatar
      Guest

      Stop the victim blaming.

      No hazing. WKU would have a swim program. It’s simple.

      Read the police report. The reason the entire team was suspended was the entire team was involved.

  13. avatar
    Jeff

    It’s about time, Bruce had it coming. Sure, college is college and alcohol gets consumed but Bruce would do nothing when exposed to blatant hazing, bullying and other “typical” upperclassman behavior.

    It happened at Clemson and I’m sure it happened everywhere else he’s been.

    Good riddance.

  14. avatar
    Tom Zollinger

    Tough decision for me. I have spent many of the last sixty years cheering against the “Fainting Goats,” the Hilltoppers. I began hearing of this on TV and griped that there was no story or detail. When finally there was a news story, I knew as little as the previous day. Thinking back, there has seldom been an off field football story without a passage referring to consumption of adult beverages by Mssrs Fant etal. More than one mention of off campus brawls and assorted assaults, violence and the like. Western continues to field its football team with the same players, no suspensions, no further mention. The “unseemly” behavior was the subject of Mr Diddle’s bell at the Little Red Barn. When SMU got the “death penalty” in the 80’s, the total suspension was ONE (1) YEAR. Mr Ransdell’s action here was grossly disproportionate to the stated misbehavior. Your swimmers/divers were a remarkable team. The very best in Kentucky and (so it would appear) the misbehavior seems to have brought the kids together in the classic sense. Mr Ransdell reaction was that of a coward who refused to address the truth or non-truth of the situation. At least now there is nothing in Bowling Green I would like to see.

  15. avatar

    Any University is an Institution of higher learning. As such, educating the students must be its primary goal.

    Removing the opportunity for proper learning to occur is an improper use of the University’s power.

  16. avatar
    Mm

    How many football programs have been suspended for the same activity? While the behavior and actions of some should be dealt with accordingly, suspending the entire program screams of something else. WKU is taking advantage of a bad situation. They obviously have no interest in doing the right thing except for what serves them. Everyone knows that swimming is considered a lesser sport even well before high school. Sad for all the WKU swimmers but even Collin who no doubt will be perceived as the snitch across any other program. Would you want him on your team? I wouldn’t have at that age.

Author: Jeff Commings

avatar
Jeff Commings is the Senior Writer for SwimmingWorld.com and Swimming World Magazine. He graduated from the University of Texas at Austin with a degree in journalism and was a nine-time NCAA All-American.

Current Swimming World Issue


Trouble Viewing on Smart Phones, Tablets or iPads? Click Here