Western Ky. bans swim, diving five years for hazing, sexual assault
Western Kentucky suspended its swimming and diving programs for five years on Tuesday following an investigation of hazing incidents and violations of Title IX sexual misconduct and assault, harassment and the student conduct code.
Hilltoppers athletes and coaches were told of the decision Tuesday morning by WKU President Gary Ransdell and athletic director Todd Stewart. Athletes can transfer to other schools or remain on campus, where their scholarships will be honored as long as they remain in good standing.
The positions of swimming coach Bruce Marchionda, assistant Brian Thomas and diving coach Chelsea Ale will be eliminated on June 30. Marchionda just completed his 10th season as head coach, Ale her second.
A release said a complaint by former WKU freshman swimmer Collin Craig led to an investigation by police and Title IX coordinator Huda Melky that discovered evidence of violations.
"This is a very difficult and unfortunate decision on many levels," Stewart said in the release. "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."
Craig complained to police in January that he had been assaulted and harassed on several occasions dating back to August, according to documents obtained by The Associated Press via open records requests. A subsequent search of a Bowling Green house where the hazing incidents occurred turned up beer kegs, marijuana paraphernalia and picture boards featuring "highly intoxicated" students to the point of vomiting and passing out, a supplementary police report outlined in graphic detail.
The report added that some photos showed intoxicated individuals nude or partially nude, placing their buttocks on other people, with a racial slur drawn on the picture of a person who appeared to be unconscious. There were also pictures of women passed out in various positions including one in a bathroom with her underwear pulled down.
The school’s summary determined that a hostile environment was created at the so-called "party house" as well as within the program. The findings by Melky and deputy Title IX director Joshua Hayes also said a culture of hazing and sexual harassment had been in place since spring 2012.
The report concluded that Marchionda knew team members had been arrested for marijuana use and possession, stealing and public intoxication. None of the coaches immediately reported the sexual harassment incidents as required by Title IX. Discipline was inconsistent and often occurred during the fall when major competition wasn’t at stake.
Ransdell said the behavior contradicts school values.
"We have high standards for student conduct and conduct of our student organizations," he said in the release. "The pervasive culture of misconduct in the swimming and diving program is intolerable. A five-year suspension is both necessary and prudent."
Bowling Green police spokesman Ronnie Ward said Tuesday that the only likely criminal charge will be against a male team member for possession of marijuana and drug paraphernalia. He did not specify the person’s name because a summons hasn’t been served.
The program’s shutdown comes three years after Claire Donahue became WKU’s first Olympic athlete to win a gold medal. She helped Team USA win the 4×100 medley relay in London.
The Hilltoppers men have won back-to-back Conference USA titles.