Over the summer, USF’s athletics program announced the retirement of Athletics Director Joan McDermott. Posted on the USF athletics website on June 10, the announcement included parting words from McDermott. “I am most grateful for the dedicated coaches, alumni, student-athletes, boosters, and staff who I have been allowed to serve,” McDermott said. “Their passion, commitment and purpose are the reason that the future of USF Athletics is bright.” Her decision was not announced to the broader USF community.
McDermott’s retirement comes after six years in the athletics department, where she served as senior executive associate and deputy athletics director before being appointed as director of
athletics in 2019. The last year of her leadership was met with challenges as the athletics department faced allegations of a toxic culture on three separate occasions.
In Sept. 2021, Sports Illustrated reported on a “predatory culture” that existed within USF’s men’s soccer team for more than a decade. The report, which detailed multiple cases of sexual assault perpetrated by soccer players, was published nine months after a Title IX investigation into allegations against the team. USF’s investigation concluded that sexual misconduct was “not pervasive among members of the USF men’s soccer team over the past decade.”
In 2022, the department was met with two more scandals. In March, three former USF baseball players filed a lawsuit against the then head coach Nino Giarratano and associate head coach Troy Nakamura, who they accused of creating an “intolerable sexualized environment.” The players also included the National Collegiate Athletic Association and USF in the lawsuit, claiming that they “failed to implement any rules prohibiting sexual harassment and retaliation.”
Three months later, two former women’s basketball players accused head coach Molly Goodenbour of “archaic and abusive conduct” in a lawsuit. One of the players, Marija Galic, claimed that McDermott brushed off the allegations she posed against Goodenbour while she was having a nervous breakdown in a training room. USF’s counsel, Mike Vartain, disputed that claim.
The Foghorn featured a letter from 59 USF athletes to McDermott and athletics administrators April 21 that listed demands for the department and called on it to ensure that “cura personalis — care of the whole person — is continuously enacted at USF.”
According to USF spokesperson, Kellie Samson, the department has begun a search for a new athletic director that is now in its final stages. “As we look to the future, USF is taking steps to ensure that our Department of Athletics — from every coach and administrator to every student-athlete — is aligned with our Jesuit educational principles that put care of the whole person, respect, and inclusivity first,” she said.
Samson also said a team of external higher education experts is conducting a program review of athletics that will “examine all aspects of our program, from reporting structure to policies to compliance and training and more.”
Kalii Caldwell, a fourth-year chemistry major and president of the Student Athlete Advisory Committee, is a member of the search committee for the new athletic director. “We expect someone who cultivates diversity and is able to create an environment where all can come as they are and feel supported and important,” she said in a statement to the Foghorn. “A leader who prioritizes the well-being of the student-athletes is a leader who will create unity and strength in our department, and we are thus looking for evidence of actions that have promoted the student-athlete experience.”
Zoe Binder, a fourth-year English and environmental studies double major, is the Foghorn’s editor in chief. She can be reached at firstname.lastname@example.org.