Boston College Swimmer Speaks Out On Canceled Season, Lack of Transparency From Athletics

A Boston College swimmer is speaking out on the school’s decision to suspend the swim & dive program for the entirety of the 2023-24 season, voicing her displeasure with the blanket decision and lack of transparency from athletics.

Katrina Sommer, a graduate senior who opted to use her fifth year of eligibility at BC after four seasons at UCLA, says the team was left in the dark as the school first suspended the swim & dive program indefinitely and then ultimately extended it through the season and “mutually parted ways” with the coaching staff.

In a letter shared with SwimSwam, Sommer expressed her confusion in initially suspending swimmers without proof, the lack of communication and transparency in the investigative process and her shock when word broke the entire season was canceled, effectively forcing her into retirement.

In September, BC announced the program’s indefinite suspension after receiving “credible reports of hazing.” One day after that was announced, allegations that freshmen swimmers were pressured to binge drink and consume their own vomit surfaced.

“Seemly out of the blue, we had a meeting with our AD assistant where we were told something happened and the junior boys had to be suspended from the team,” Sommer said. “On September 20, the women’s team had a meeting with the coaches and we were told the practices the following week of practice were canceled. I did not know what we were accused of and I went through that meeting with a cloud of fear and confusion.

“I bathed in the news with the other senior women trying to find a solution to the ‘team culture’ issue the school had raised. I had only experienced a welcoming culture. They had as well. Surprisingly, and without any communication from the AD or the coaches, the Athletics Instagram page posted we were suspended indefinitely,” she said.

“It all felt like a silly dream. How could my best year begin like this? We would be back soon I thought. I don’t understand why the school would post anything without any investigation or communication on what these allegations even were.

“The following day, I sat in a meeting with the rest of the team where the AD walked in, told us we were all disgusting people, and hoped some of us were to be suspended.

“In eight minutes, he canceled the rest of my swimming career without any proof or any care for the impact he might have caused. I had witnessed the impact mental health had had on my athletic community and was shocked BC was subjecting a whole team to the emotional impacts of being charged before we knew the allegations or could defend ourselves.”

Sommer said she along with members of the team received a letter stating they were under investigation “with zero proof or connection.”

“At this point, I lost faith that BC cared about the well-being of its students. I was suspected guilty without any proof other than I was on the swim team. After dealing with the emotional burden of false accusations, I was interviewed a month later and cleared of any wrongdoing, along with the majority of the team.

“The reason why I was involved in the allegations of hazing was never explained to me beyond the fact I was listed on the swim team roster. The proof I was not there and I did not know about anything did not protect me from the allegations that blanketed the whole team. I, and many other of my teammates, were all cleared only months after the school chose to publicize the suspension which supposed our guilt or complicity.”

Members of the team filed a lawsuit in October seeking reinstatement, which was dropped less than two weeks later. The suit included 37 of the 66 members of the team. Sommer, who is pursuing her master’s degree from BC in cybersecurity policy and governance and is applying to law schools, did not join it.

Team members conducted unofficial practices while the team was suspended during the first semester, with coaches sending them workouts.

Sommer said she made repeat attempts to get in contact with the Athletics Department for any update on the status of the investigation, and after going into the office directly, she and a senior teammate finally got a face-to-face meeting with athletic director Blake James.

“He acknowledged many of us were cleared of any wrongdoing but responded to any of my questions about reinstatement with ‘culture’ problems still existing. He had ‘won the lawsuit’ and the team was a problem regardless if I or anyone else was not involved,” Sommer said.

“How could there be cultural problems if we had not been a team for over three months after only two weeks of being a team? How could he even justify his stance without any proof other than using the term ‘allegation?’

“I knew we had a good team culture and I believed in the coaches and my teammates to continue to build it.”

Over the Christmas break, BC coaches arranged for Sommer and a few of her teammates to join a club team for a training camp at the U.S. Olympic Training Center in Colorado.

On January 4, the swimmers were informed via email that their entire season was canceled and that the program was suspended until August 2024. With Sommer’s master’s program ending that month, having accelerated it to coincide with her fifth year of eligibility, the news effectively ended her career.

“It felt like my last year of swim was pulled away right from under me,” she said. “Of course, I was not alone in feeling this way. I felt deeply for the other seniors who had to be forced into early retirement and could not be given the respect from the AD to explain that in person. After 10-plus years of swimming, the graduating class was forced to finish their swimming and diving careers over a single-page email.

“Looking back, I believe this was their plan the whole time. I wish they had given us and the coaches the respect of telling us in the beginning. But, they dragged us all along without any communication for months.”

On January 11, coaches told the swimmers they were leaving after a mutual parting of ways with the school.

“My heart broke, again,” Sommer said. “They had been the biggest reason why I chose BC for my fifth year. They were amazing coaches and I am beyond disheartened their time at BC was cut short. In my opinion, they were beyond not involved in any of the alleged activities and had great character throughout their time at BC.”

In a story published in the Boston Globe on Tuesday, James was unavailable to comment on the situation as he was conducting interviews for the school’s vacant head coaching position, according to a BC spokesperson. SwimSwam has reached out to the school for comment.

Sommer, 22, last competed at the Speedo Grand Challenge in May 2023. Last February, she was 19th in both the 200 and 400 IM at the Women’s Pac-12 Championships for UCLA, matching her career-best finish from 2022 in the 200 back.

She is still left wondering what she should take away from her time at BC, but hopes shedding light on the story can help future student-athletes and lead to greater transparency within athletics departments.

“I am still unsure of what lessons I am learning from this experience. I am unsure where I stand with swimming or my Masters after all the emotional stress during this process,” she said. “It has been some of the hardest months of my life–which is a lot to say, especially after swimming through a single parent having cancer and the numerous other adversity faced throughout a typical college swim experience.

“I question if I made the right choice to go to BC or if attempting a fifth year was worth it. I wonder if there was anything I could have done differently to advocate more for our season or for myself. As of writing this, I reflect on my actions. I believe I tried my hardest to commit to the values BC promised it comprised of, only to have administrators undercut BC’s mission.

“I use this opportunity to express that things will not go perfectly in your college athletic experience. However, being a college athlete has brought me extraordinary opportunities, friendships, and memories. I have loved representing my school and my sport on a bigger platform. I am so passionate about the work I did advocating for female representation and the legacy I hope to have left behind at my undergraduate institution,” said Sommer, who chaired an advocacy group for female athletes during her time at UCLA and helped represent the school’s athletes when it transitioned from the Pac-12 to the Big Ten.

“I can walk away from college swimming knowing that I did my best and that those memories will always be there. I still have hope for the future of college athletics and BC Swim and Dive. I hope writing this contributes to that brighter future and gives other athletes the courage to speak up about their experiences within the limited transparency of college athletics.”

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Anonymous
4 months ago

Show your support for BC swimming and diving – and also show the administration people are watching what happens with the program by donating $5 to the link below. This is their annual athletics fundraiser and it pits all the varsity sorts against each other in a fundraising competition. The team with the most individual donors gets an award, and swimming is only ~20 or so behind (ends today):

https://give.bc.edu/schools/BostonCollege/support-your-sport-2024/pages/support-your-sport-bc-swim-and-dive

Anon
4 months ago

Womp womp

Anonymous
4 months ago

I think this is what college athletic depts do when they want to say “seeee – we did something about ….”, then punish swim and dive, meanwhile basketball and football do not get anything cancelled for any reason.

YGBSM
Reply to  Anonymous
4 months ago

Correct.

MarshFAN
Reply to  Anonymous
4 months ago

Well maybe switch to football or basketball!

Meeeee
4 months ago

Things like this happen every year at many schools. This is just an excuse to get rid of the swim team.

YGBSM
Reply to  Meeeee
4 months ago

Double correct.

SwimmieSwam
4 months ago

This semester, the sophomores are not on campus.

It would have been a great time to get the rest of the team back into the pool to start training, regroup and recover. Instead, BC ‘parted ways’ with the coaches, canceled the remainder of the season and specifically instructed the aquatic staff to not allow any BC swim team members to use the pool equipment. 

BC has not posted a job listing for any replacement swim coaches. They have not guaranteed in writing a swim season next semester, and have been encouraging kids to get into the portal. 

Ultimately, the only people that can save the program are the trustees as they have final say over… Read more »

Swim3057
Reply to  SwimmieSwam
4 months ago

The Board of Trustees has followed Father Leary’s lead and direction for 30 years. Most college presidents don’t stay 3 decades – he has stayed and led BCs response to a myriad of issues that were head scratching to say the least, Between Leahy and his PR guy Jack Dunn who will defend BC to the bitter end and spin it to BCs advantage they have been experts in spin control. James wasn’t a great hire but was at the point of his career he wanted one last spot. After previous ADs Jarmond (UCLA) and Kraff (Penn State) fled after less than 4 years each BC got an AD who is willing to take the bullets for University leadership. The… Read more »

swimswammie
Reply to  SwimmieSwam
4 months ago

The sophomores are still a part of the team and will be in the fall. To “re-group” is not possible with 17 members of the team missing. These athletes also need to regroup and recover with their team who have been through this traumatic time all together.

SwimmieSwam
Reply to  swimswammie
4 months ago

Yes! Completely agree. My point was to highlight the athletic department had an opportunity to prove if they want to cultivate and support the swim team at BC this semester, and an Olympic Trial year, would have been the time to do so, but they did the opposite of what they are preaching. The sophomores are a huge part of this team and will, hopefully, continue to be so!

Swim Observer
Reply to  SwimmieSwam
4 months ago

Did BC kick the sophomores out for a semester?

Bestsportever
Reply to  Swim Observer
4 months ago

Yes – suspended through May

SwimmieSwam
4 months ago

Ultimately, the only people that can save the program are the trustees as they have final say over Leahy. I hope this article gets to them.

Leahy and James are both complicit in this travesty. Both of them have ignored hundreds of emails from parents and students asking for clarity and help with this situation. They have allowed the team to be bullied, harassed and let vile false accusations flourish.

Leahy does not want to lose yet another AD in such a short amount of time, or have to admit Blake James was a terrible hire. Leahy also needs to protect BC’s reputation so is shielding James and has let the BC athletes suffer and take the entire brunt of… Read more »

Becky D
4 months ago

Google says BC has an acceptance rate of 19%. If so, how did the admissions office manage to exclusively accept “disgusting people” for the swim team? It seems the AD should take his concerns to Admissions if he’s unhappy with the caliber of student athletes. Ha.

It looks more like BC wants to continue to collect $64k/year (however prorated) from those “disgusting people,” but just not let them swim.

FireBJ
Reply to  Becky D
4 months ago

$82,000, including room and board. Plus a lot of Support Your Sport donations.

Bestsportever
Reply to  FireBJ
4 months ago

And therapy bills 😢

Swim parent 2001
4 months ago

I get it. An incident happened. Address the kids who did something and move on.

Apparently hazing is such a priority for Blake James but I’m told that BC has no anti-hazing training program In place. The BC swimmers are to attend an anti hazing program but the university is researching consultants to do so. ?????

Blake James has no concept of the sport of swimming/diving.

About James Sutherland

James Sutherland

James swam five years at Laurentian University in Sudbury, Ontario, specializing in the 200 free, back and IM. He finished up his collegiate swimming career in 2018, graduating with a bachelor's degree in economics. In 2019 he completed his graduate degree in sports journalism. Prior to going to Laurentian, James swam …

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