BU applies some recommendations of review
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Brandon University says it has started to make changes to its athletics program following an independent review of the department conducted last year, which was released on Monday.
On Sept. 29, 2022, BU received the 52-page report, which was conducted by Melissa Knox, a human rights and sports lawyer, Steve Fitterer, former vice-president of students at Mount Royal University, and Sandy Slavin, former athletic director at the University of Lethbridge, all of whom were varsity athletes.
It makes 36 recommendations to improve the student-athlete experience by fostering a safer environment for them, and further formalizing the roles and expectations of athletes, coaches and staff alike.
The report was triggered by the mishandling of complaints and allegations of sexual harassment by former BU women’s soccer coach Jesse Roziere. He was put on leave the day the allegations were mentioned in a Winnipeg Free Press story. A third-party investigation aligned with the allegations, highlighting patterns of abuse of power and sexual harassment.
BU later apologized for its handling of the situation before it reached the public eye.
Knox, Fitterer and Slavin interviewed myriad people connected to BU, including president David Docherty, athletic director Russ Paddock, head and assistant coaches, veteran and rookie student-athletes, Bobcat alumni, the students’ association, Healthy Living Centre staff and other employees on June 13-15, 2022.
“I feel pretty good about the report, but let’s put that in context in the sense that we did have an incident,” Docherty told the Sun.
“This report was not viewed to reinvestigate anything that happened but really just to look at our policies and practices and make sure we weren’t significantly out of whack or behind. Are there ways we could improve?”
According to the report, there are.
Namely, it recommends building a safe sport plan and stresses how complaints are handled, highlighting participants’ concerns about bringing forth complaints for fear of retribution.
“There is a perception, from both staff and students, that the university appears to want to protect the individual being complained about over and above the person making the complaint,” the report states.
Docherty said BU has individuals who can receive such complaints outside the athletics department, including a harassment discrimination officer and dean of students, and the school is having conversations to decide who is the best fit.
“People need to feel safe to report, so we have to protect their anonymity,” Docherty said. “We have to protect their confidentiality because if we don’t, then other people are not going to be willing to come up when something happens and that’s the worst-case scenario. We don’t want that to happen.
“We’re working to ensure people know where they can go to report. If they do report, to say a faculty member or someone like that, that person knows where to take them right to where they can be safe.”
SOCCER ‘SECOND CLASS’
The report has some good recommendations, Docherty said, some the school is already working on, and others that require more time and conversations with multiple groups, and some BU doesn’t intend to follow.
“We don’t intend to hire a full-time coach for men’s or women’s soccer,” the president said. “In terms of funding, we treat men’s soccer the same as women’s but we don’t treat it the same as we do basketball and volleyball, which are part of U Sport or Canada West.
“We just don’t see us being in a position to make those kinds of investments at the moment, but that doesn’t mean those teams don’t fall under the same policies and practices when it comes to sexual violence education, education of coaches, those kinds of things as well.
“We’re not planning on applying for Canada West in soccer where the cost of travel dramatically increases.”
The school has put a lot of work into the development of the soccer programs, Paddock added, from their origin in 2013 to joining the Manitoba Colleges Athletic Conference the following year and winning multiple women’s and men’s league titles, the most recent of which sent the Bobcat men to the Canadian Collegiate Athletic Association national championship in 2021.
“Perhaps there could have been a better job done of managing their expectations as opposed to directly comparing themselves to the U Sports teams, that maybe a comparison to the other MCAC teams would be probably valuable as well,” Paddock said.
The report recommends a review of BU’s organizational structure. It suggests considering a temporary leave for the athletic director, which Docherty said didn’t appear to come with a rationale and was not considered as Paddock is part of the collective agreement.
“I’m not going to talk specifically about this issue and my confidence in one individual,” Docherty said. “I won’t do that in media. That is not my role. What I will say in general, my own style of leadership is that we all have the capacity to review what we’ve done and learn from that. That’s true in any kind of situation. I tell myself that all the time as well.
“I won’t comment specifically. You’re asking the general manager what their faith is in the coach.”
In the long term, the report suggests transitioning volleyball and basketball coaches and the athletic therapist out of faculty positions. Docherty said that discussion would have to take place with the faculty association since there’s an existing collective bargaining agreement, which expires on March 31.
The last suggestion for structure explains how BU’s model of Bobcat Athletics falling under the vice-president of finance’s scope could shift to a faculty — likely kinesiology — or student services “to align with leading practices nationally, and better connect Bobcat athletics with supports for student-athletes.”
Docherty said that conversation would have to happen internally before he’d comment.
“We recognize that we’re unique in a way. That’s not the regular way that it goes,” Docherty said.
“We know [the student-services model] exists at some other institutions but certainly not all institutions.
“We always look at organizational structure to see if we can be more effective and efficient and that takes place across campus.”
The report mentions the development of a safe sport plan, including the addition of a safe disclosure officer position or incorporating the role into an existing position.
Specific safe sport training, according to the report, ideally includes a list of topics covered before the season. Those listed are online doping training, concussion education, pre-tryout medicals with annual updates, understanding of waivers and consent forms, and Canadian Association of Coaching safe sport training and CAC Rule of Two training — something students who participated in the review were reportedly not too familiar with.
Students had trouble identifying inappropriate behaviour of coaches, the report says, citing that “it is not uncommon for coaches to communicate privately with their student-athletes via WhatsApp,” and that some students were contacted by coaches through social media, and attended gatherings with alcohol while telling athletes to avoid posting photos of them.
With the review’s recommendation of producing formal coach codes of conduct and student-athlete handbooks, such behaviours could be clearly outlined as inappropriate.
“It’s all a process. A lot of those were already in place,” Paddock said. “Some were added in the fall and additional things. I expect in the future we’re going to be also complying with requirements from Canada West and U Sports, CCAA so there will be some meshing of what the requirements are.
“CCAA had requirements for safe sport and creating a campus free of sexual violence. Those are things we required of all our teams.”
Paddock agreed with the report in that Bobcat Athletics is a smaller department compared to other U Sports programs. That makes communication without formal meetings easier; however, the report notes that means there is less record of conversations and fewer formal action items assigned to individuals.
“We’re small and also have academic meetings that most people are involved in,” Paddock said. “It is a complicated system with people filling a lot of different roles. I mean, some of the points of that are noted but we’ll work towards making sure everybody’s informed.”
The review concluded job descriptions for U Sports coaches and athletics staff are basic and potentially “outdated.” Job descriptions for part-time head coaches (soccer) and assistants were “non-existent,” and they did not find a standard practice through which assistants are selected.
They understood some assistant coaches volunteer while some receive small honorariums. BU women’s volleyball coach Lee Carter, who is currently on leave for reasons Paddock and Docherty declined to comment on, told the Sun during an end-of-season interview that he gets $4,000 for assistant coaches.
The report recommends a more formal process for how assistants are selected and for them to be captured in the safe sport plan.
It also found a lack of clear strategy or performance goals for the collective program, meaning teams are more heavily influenced by the philosophies of their coaches.
Through observation, one can see a women’s volleyball team with more than 10 academic all-Canadians and zero wins this season is a stark contrast to a men’s basketball squad with one academic all-Canadian, a couple of new, mature students each year and an immediate transition from a 2-14 season to 12-8 as one of the top offences in the nation in 2022-23.
The review found coaches aren’t subjected to formal annual evaluations, though at least one felt there is more than enough feedback.
“In some cases, some coaches feel their team has been given considerable latitude to question the decisions of the coach and the extent to which feedback is given on a routine basis is almost ‘too much.’”
Therefore, the report suggests implementing an “independent coach evaluation process,” and making it more clear how success is measured.
“There’s been opportunities for student-athlete feedback in the past and it’s evolved how we’ve collected that data,” Paddock said. “It’s important for any coach and for our staff as well to receive feedback to help in terms of our performance and how it’s affecting the student-athletes.”
Paddock noted the school’s intent to develop an improved safe sport plan is one a lot of sports organizations currently share.
“Even since the report, there’s been lots of work, discussion nationally in U Sports, Canada West,” he said. “Those discussions and decisions along with some of the recommendations of the report will guide our plan moving forward.”
Paddock noted the meshing of conference policies with BU policies, to some degree, dictate the timeline for these formal changes.
While BU received the report last September, Docherty said the school had to circulate it internally before releasing and commenting on the findings.
“Now that it’s out there, we’re held accountable to make sure on those areas we said we’d do something, we’ll do something,” Docherty said. “And to explain in those cases such as funding increase, funding for some sports, if we’re not going to do it, we have to be able to say ‘No, we’re not going to do this one’ but at least we’re accountable for what we’re doing.”
The Sun reached out for comment to Knox, who did not respond by press time.
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