After multiple emotional abuse accusations against women’s hockey coach Josh Brandwene, Penn State Athletics has submitted a review of the allegations to the university’s Office of Ethics and Compliance.
This comes after the program’s annual postseason evaluation was recently completed, Penn State athletic director Sandy Barbour said in a phone interview Wednesday.
“The postseason evaluations are done as the seasons finish up depending on certain situations in the program or availability of coaches, players and support staff,” Barbour said. “Based on some student-athletes’ concerns, there’s a review that has been turned over to our ethics and compliance office that is not completed yet.”
We’ve put a lot of time and effort into this, into making sure we get this right and we fully understand the dynamics that are at play...and that we understand the balance between tough coaching and behavior that crosses the line.
Sandy Barbour, Penn State athletic director
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The review is a byproduct of a series of accusations against Brandwene, the four-year Nittany Lions coach.
In April 2014, The Daily Collegian reported that Brandwene cut seven players, some claiming because they had a bad relationship with the coach.
On March 21 of this year, The Daily Collegian published another article with former players again speaking up, alleging Brandwene was emotionally abusive in their time with the young program’s lone coach.
Five days later, Penn State Athletics shared the following statement with the Centre Daily Times: “Coach Brandwene has made steady progress during the program’s initial four years in the development of its student-athletes and in building a foundation for future success. Penn State Intercollegiate Athletics has well-established, confidential processes in place to follow-up on direct and indirect feedback from student-athletes and others closely connected to our programs.”
Since then, The Daily Collegian and PennLive have also published articles reporting mental and verbal abuse by Penn State women’s gymnastics coaches Jeff and Rachelle Thompson.
Barbour said the postseason evaluation for the women’s gymnastics program is still ongoing.
“We hope to wrap that up here soon,” she said.
Barbour, who joined Penn State as athletic director in 2014, is a former collegiate athlete herself. She was a four-year letterwinner in field hockey and played varsity basketball for two seasons at Wake Forest.
Barbour understands the plight of the student-athlete, and has used the past few weeks to reflect on the current situations the two programs are in.
She said the alleged abuse is “disturbing” to the coaches in question — Brandwene and the Thompsons — and that both staffs want one thing.
“That is what’s best for our student-athletes, and what’s best for our success,” Barbour said. “When I say that, let’s be very clear, that success to me has to do with student-athlete experience, academic success, athletic success, engagement in the community, etc. They want that, so anything we can do to help make that better, they are all for it.”
Barbour also noted that this process takes time in order to gain the “fullest picture.” She said she wouldn’t be a responsible athletic director if the situations at hand didn’t weigh on her.
“We’ve put a lot of time and effort into this, into making sure we get this right and we fully understand the dynamics that are at play,” Barbour said, “... and that we understand the balance between tough coaching and behavior that crosses the line.”
Still, Barbour has not been pleased with how both situations played out in the media.
She said that players coming out and talking publicly sheds light on the issues at hand, “with the hopes of a certain outcome.”
But Barbour wishes the concerns were handled internally, and said public conversation will not impact how the athletic department handles the situations “one iota.”
“That we have concerns in two programs, and that we have student-athletes who feel their experience has been less than satisfying to say the least is very concerning to me,” Barbour noted. “But playing it out in public is frankly unfortunate.”