The fact is we are not talking about one or two disgruntled players going to the coach to complain about a lack of playing time. Instead, we are talking about borderline coup d'Ztats. This past winter, the members of the women's crew team issued a joint statement accusing coach Carol Bower of being, in a word, ineffective. The team called for Bower's resignation and said it would not row if her tenure continued. The athletic department was able to work out a compromise, according to which Bower would remain as coach but would make significant changes in the program. Members of the women's and men's swimming teams, in April 1993 and September 1994, respectively, submitted petitions to the athletic department requesting the dismissal of coach Kathy Lawlor-Gilbert and threatening to quit if she was retained. She was, and six women's swimmers went ahead and left the team in October of 1993. The women's team has not won an Ivy League dual meet since that exodus. And while it has neither signed any petitions nor placed any formal demands with the athletic department -- at least none that has been made public -- the softball team has been plagued by discontent for at least two years now. It is known that a number of team members are extremely dissatisfied with coach Linda Carothers. Whether the above are a series of unconnected coincidences or are emblematic of a serious problem affecting today's player-coach relationships, one thing is for certain. The Penn athletic department -- dating back to the spring of 1993 when then-Athletic Director Paul Rubincam listened to the complaints of the women swimmers -- has been anything but trigger-happy toward its coaches. Despite a plethora of mediocre and poor teams on campus, the only coach fired or pressured to resign in the past four years was Steve Baumann, who stepped down from the men's soccer post before the 1993 season. Deservedly or not, the Penn athletic department has gained a reputation among athletes for being inapproachable when it comes to problems with coaches. The women swimmers were furious three years ago when no one took their complaints seriously. Happily, under Athletic Director Steve Bilsky, the athletic department has tried to be more responsive to the women's crew team, helping the team and coach to reach a compromise. It is clear from the team's comments thus far this season that it does not consider the situation ideal. But at least things are more tolerable now. To some extent, the athletic department should be commended for being so exceedingly cautious with rifts between players and coaches. It is a tragedy whenever a coach is fired without just cause. These are people's livelihoods we're talking about, and no coach should have his or her life turned upside down simply because the players are angry at him or her. But the demands of the athletes must never be dismissed offhand. Not ever. Men's basketball coach Fran Dunphy, one of the most successful coaches in any sport at any school, likes to refer to himself as a "facilitator" for his players. He may just have it right. If an entire team, or half a team, has a serious enough problem with a coach to present a unified front to the athletic department, it may just have a point. In such a scenario, the athletic department's policy should strongly encourage a coach to listen to his team and give great thought to altering his ways. If he refuses, then harsh as it sounds, a coaching change should be made. Any other policy fails to remember that collegiate sports are, by nature, of and for the student-athletes, designed to enrich and educate them. Simply, any other policy fails the student-athlete.Comments powered by Disqus
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