President Fitzgerald Announces Updates to Athletics Department in Response to Allegations

3/13/22: 2022 SONC Polar Plunge at Rio Del Mar Beach in Aptos, CA. Image by Chris M. Leung for KLCFotos.

Met with multiple allegations of abuse within the USF Athletics Department, specifically the men’s soccer, men’s baseball, and most recently the women’s basketball teams, President Fitzgerald sent an update on the state of USF athletics to the University community on May 4, 2022. 

Fitzgerald wrote that, in light of  “controversies, public allegations, and negative headlines, I wanted to take this opportunity to update you on what we are doing to ensure that the culture of Athletics is aligned with our mission and values.”

This message followed “standard procedures when the President communicates to students, staff, faculty, and librarians with important updates,” University spokesperson Kellie Samson stated. Samson noted that while the message was reviewed by Fitzgerald’s council of staff from the Athletics Department and the Office of the General Counsel, all content and positions were of his own making. 

The email details many steps the University has previously and is currently undertaking to address these issues. “It is inaccurate to say that such reports are met with silence, or are ignored and not acted upon by the university. They are and have been acted upon,” Fitzgerald stated. 

Most notable from these actions is a commitment to further examination and investigation into Athletics operations. An external team of experts is in development to complete a program review of all University athletic operations. They will report directly to Fitzgerald. 

Fitzgerald wrote that as part of this program review, the University administration will “revisit membership” of the Athletics Oversight Board, which as of now consists of only eight high-level staff members. 

This oversight board will assist in making up the hiring committee for a new baseball coach, along with students, faculty, and staff, Fitzgerald stated. The position has been vacant following head coach Nino Giarratano being terminated in March due to allegations of abuse. They will hold interviews this month. “In addition to the specific level of skill and experience needed to lead a Division Ⅰ athletic team, candidates must demonstrate a commitment to support and uphold USF’s mission, vision, and values,” Samson stated. 

In another examination effort, the University is bringing in “Martha Peugh-Wade, associate vice president for compliance who works in the Division of the Office of the General Counsel and former associate vice president for human resources at USF, to work with Athletics on a daily basis,” Fitzgerald wrote. 

There has been no information released on what Peugh-Wade’s precise role will be. According to Samson, it will be “determined in consultation with the university’s Director of Athletics.” 

In a March 23 letter from student athletes, USF’s Director of Athletics, Joan McDermott, responded to allegations of abuse and ways of moving forward. Fitzgerald enumerated many updates that will come from these student activism efforts in his address. These initiatives include, but are not limited to: a restructuring of the Student-Athletes Athletic Council, a division of Counseling and Psychological Services solely for student-athletes, and a dedicated Title IX space within the Athletics department. 

While sophomore nursing major and student athlete Kenna Roth is glad the University is committing to further examination of the department, she expressed worry at what the after-the-fact response means for her and her soccer teammates. “The information is being shared too late,” she said. “If information about misconduct and scandals is only disseminated after the fact, it makes us question how important our well-being really is to the department and the school as a whole.” 

“The fact that students have taken on the responsibility of the administration is incredibly disappointing,” Roth said. “Though, I’m proud of the many people that have come forward and demanded transparency, it’s on the department to demand more of themselves.”

Megan Robertson, a sophomore media studies and performing arts & social justice double major, is the Foghorn’s deputy news editor and general assignment reporter. She can be reached at mrrobertson2@dons.usfca.edu.

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