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Politics & Government

Wichita State hasn’t suspended Gregg Marshall, and some faculty want to know why

 
 

Some Wichita State University faculty members are questioning why university leaders are allowing men’s basketball coach Gregg Marshall to continue coaching while he’s under investigation for allegations of physical and verbal abuse.

Kansas Board of Regents Chair Bill Feuerborn said the decision is being left to interim President Rick Muma and the Wichita State athletics department. But Wichita State officials have offered no explanation for why he is still coaching through the investigation.

Muma, appointed by the Kansas Board of Regents on Wednesday, declined to comment on the decision in a written statement sent by a university spokesperson, citing privacy laws.

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“Suspension of university employees is a personnel decision,” the statement says. “The university does not comment on personnel matters in accordance with state and federal privacy laws.”

Athletic Director Darron Boatright acknowledged the allegations “are very serious and troubling” and said he is “closely monitoring the team’s ongoing activities” during the investigation.

“Although Coach Marshall has not been placed on administrative leave at this time, I will continue to assess the program’s coaching and other needs in order to support the safety and well-being of the student-athletes,” Boatright said in a written statement to The Eagle.

Marshall is under investigation by a St. Louis-based law firm that was hired by the university to look into allegations that he punched a player, choked an assistant coach, was involved in a physical altercation with a student-athlete over a parking spot and was verbally abusive, including using racially and culturally insensitive language to belittle players.

The investigation was not confirmed publicly by Wichita State until it was reported by The Athletic and Stadium.

Through his agent, Marshall has denied ever striking a player or colleague and says he has never been demeaning or abusive.

Jeff Hayton, associate professor of history at WSU, said by not suspending Marshall during the investigation WSU is sending two messages: “it doesn’t take allegations of physical abuse seriously” and “it doesn’t take the well-being of its students seriously.”

“And both of these messages point to a dereliction of duty towards those entrusted in our care and a complete bankruptcy of morality,” Hayton continued. “The fact that WSU won’t take a principled stand against physical and verbal abuse is yet another black mark on this institution’s reputation.”

Five players from the 2015-16 WSU basketball team independently told The Eagle that they witnessed Marshall punching Shaquille Morris in the back of the head during a 2015 practice. Eight players from the 2016-17 team told The Eagle they saw Marshall put his hand around the throat of assistant coach Kyle Lindsted during a practice in the 2016-17 season, substantiating claims made by Morris in a report by Stadium.

Marshall declined to comment for this story.

Some faculty members said the severity of the allegations against him require Wichita State to do something before the investigation is finished.

“The allegations that have come out about coach Marshall are very concerning to me, personally,” said Chase Billingham, associate professor in sociology, at a recent WSU Faculty Senate meeting.

“Given the fact the university prides itself — and asserts very boldly — that we are a student-centered university, the allegations that have come out about physical abuse in particular of undergraduate students are very concerning to me,” he said. “And it’s especially concerning to me that coach Marshall is still on campus and still working with students while that investigation is underway, given the nature of the allegations.”

Wichita State’s Faculty Senate has not taken a formal stance on the Marshall investigation, but it is being considered as an agenda item at its next meeting on Oct 26. Faculty Senate does not have the authority to suspend Marshall, but it can weigh in on campus issues.

“Because this is a highly complex matter, it would be a good idea to know exactly what the faculty concerns are,” said Neal Allen, associate professor and chair of the political science department. “And particularly how they fit into the larger issues about us being faculty, beyond the fact that we would rather not have university employees punching students.”

It’s common for universities to suspend coaches while an investigation of misconduct is being completed.

In a recent example, the University of Evansville placed basketball coach Walter McCarty on administrative leave last year amid an investigation into possible violations of Title IX, a federal law prohibiting sex discrimination in programs that receive federal funding. A month later, amid additional reports of inappropriate sexual conduct, Evansville fired McCarty.

Another recent example is former K-State football coach Ron Prince, who was suspended by Howard University last November while it investigated allegations of verbal abuse and player intimidation. Under his watch, 17 players entered the transfer portal so they could play elsewhere. A parent later accused him of being “threatening, hostile, abusive and disrespectful of young men an coaching staff.” Prince resigned a month later.

Wichita State’s own policies call for the school to place an employee on administrative leave when it is “deemed to be in the best interest of the University.”

University workers can be placed on administrative leave when an employee “is involved, as a complainant, as a respondent, other interested person, during an internal review or investigation of alleged behavior and/or action that may violate University policy, procedures, applicable laws and/or employment expectations,” according to WSU’s policy and procedures manual.

“If a professor was credibly accused of assaulting a student during class, would that professor be allowed back into the classroom while the allegation was being investigated,” Hayton said. “No, ... university policies are fairly clear on this.

“Physical assault is an action that can get a tenured professor fired and should lead to a criminal referral. The standard should be no different with our sports coaches, regardless of how big their salaries are. By not suspending Marshall during the investigation, WSU is telling everyone that it is just going through the motions.”

Marshall investigation, Golden resignation

Muma won’t say why Marshall isn’t suspended, but he did say Wichita State is committed to conducting a fair, impartial and thorough investigation.

“I don’t know exactly when that will be completed,” Muma said Monday at a university town hall meeting.

“We want to make sure that it’s done in the right way, so whatever time that takes, that’s the time it will take. So I don’t want to say anything more about a particular date because I don’t know what particular date that will be.”

“As the university has previously stated, the investigation is being conducted in an expeditious and deliberate manner,” Muma said in an email Thursday. “We are committed to protecting the integrity of the investigation to ensure that it is conducted in a fair, impartial and thorough manner.”

The investigation was launched while former President Jay Golden was still in charge at Wichita State. He resigned without explanation two weeks before the investigation was reported publicly.

But rumblings about former players coming out against Marshall were apparently reverberating through the university’s donor community on the day Golden resigned.

At a private donor meeting on the morning of Friday, Sept. 25, Golden fielded his last public question as president. It was about Marshall.

Golden had just finished outlining his future plans as president at Wichita State, a job he started in January that had been largely disrupted by the coronavirus pandemic. He was popular with most student and faculty leaders, but caused concern among some donors in June when he replaced Ivanka Trump with a Black graduating student as the keynote speaker for WSU Tech’s virtual graduation.

Some longtime donors called on the Kansas Board of Regents to fire Golden, prompting a four-hour, closed executive session by the board to discuss Golden’s future at the university. Golden’s job appeared safe after the meeting ended with no action.

At the Sept. 25 meeting of the National Advisory Council for the Wichita State University Foundation, Golden was asked if he had patched things up with offended donors. He said he had communicated with some and was working to repair his relationships with others and that “time would heal those wounds.”

He was then asked about the basketball program, specifically about former players and Marshall.

“Is there any issue with regard to ex-Wichita State basketball athletes and Gregg Marshall, and some possible issues that could impact our program,” one advisory council member asked.

“I don’t talk about personnel issues, whether they’re real or not, just to be consistent,” Golden said.

Two-and-a-half hours later, after a meeting with Feuerborn, the chair of the Kansas Board of Regents, and Regents President Blake Flanders, Golden signed a resignation agreement that would pay him $225,000 in consulting fees.

Feuerborn would not say what happened in that meeting, but stated that Golden’s resignation had nothing to do with the Marshall investigation.

“No, it didn’t have anything to do with that,” he said.

Regents, Wichita State leaders and Golden have all declined to say why Golden abruptly exited the university after less than a year on the job.

AAC, NCAA silent

Feuerborn said Regents didn’t know about Marshall investigation until after the news broke on Oct. 9, two weeks after Golden resigned.

“Muma indicated to me that they were doing an investigation, but not until it came out,” Feuerborn said. “I didn’t know about it until the last few days.”

It wasn’t the first time the Regents were approached about Marshall’s behavior, but it’s the first time they had heard of any allegations of physical abuse of student-athletes or coaches, Feuerborn said.

“I never heard any of that,” he said. “But, you know, why would I? That goes directly to the athletic director and then to the president. It doesn’t come to the board unless something is going to be done or something like that.”

The first report to the Regents came after Marshall was ejected from a 2016 summer exhibition game in Canada against McGill University.

After several questionable calls, including a no-call on a foul that left one of his players concussed and needing three stitches on his chin, and errors keeping score, Marshall stormed the court to go after the referees. He had to be held back for more than a minute as he yelled and shoved assistant coaches and players. Video of the tantrum has gone viral online in the wake of new allegations against Marshall.

The outburst didn’t receive much attention from the Regents at the time, Feuerborn said.

Previous Wichita State president John Bardo, who died last spring, approached Feuerborn about the Canada trip and said, “Gregg Marshall got out of line a little bit.”

“John (Bardo) knew that I was a big sports fan and a basketball fan,” Feuerborn said. “And he just commented that there was an incident and that it happened at an exhibition game.”

Marshall’s discipline was handled internally, and Marshall was suspended from coaching the final exhibition game of the Canada trip.

Feuerborn said the Regents grant near full autonomy to Kansas university presidents and athletic departments when it comes to disciplining and investigating coaches.

Feuerborn said the Marshall investigation could affect WSU off the basketball court and in the classroom.

“When you’re fighting for every kid that you’re trying to recruit, not just to be a basketball player, but to be a student, any bad publicity would not be helpful,” he said, adding that “the same deal is going on at KU with the NCAA investigation; that definitely — probably hasn’t helped KU.”

In the aftermath of an FBI investigation into corruption in college basketball, the NCAA accused KU’s men’s basketball program and coach Bill Sell of committing five Level I violations, which are considered the most severe, related to Adidas representatives allegedly acting as boosters while arranging payments to prospective recruits. The charges include lack of institutional control and head-coach responsibility violations.

That case is pending before an independent resolution panel to decide what penalties the Jayhawks could face.

NCAA may institute penalties to universities, teams, coaches and athletic departments based on unethical conduct and a lack of institutional control.

The NCAA did not answer The Eagle’s written questions about whether it is conducting its own investigation into Wichita State or Marshall. American Athletic Conference commissioner Mike Aresco, through a conference deputy, declined to comment on the ongoing investigation.

Boatright, WSU’s athletic director, said the university will support anyone who chooses to support the investigation and “retaliation of any form will not be tolerated.”

“My top priority as Director of Athletics is assuring that our student-athletes practice and compete in a safe environment,” he said in the statement. “The University has retained an independent law firm to investigate the allegations expeditiously and thoroughly. I fully support the investigation and encourage anyone with relevant information to contact the investigators directly. It is my expectation that all coaches and other Athletic Department staff will provide their full cooperation to the investigators.

Adam Henningsen, one of the attorneys working on the Marshall investigation for the firm Tueth Keeney, said anyone seeking to speak with investigation may contact him or his colleague Ian Cooper at ahenningsen@tuethkeeney.com or icooper@tuethkeeney.com.

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