Former Pepperdine women’s swimming & diving coach Joe Spahn was put on paid administrative leave after athletes alleged bullying and other misconduct.
A Pepperdine document shows that team members complained to the university about Spahn, alleging a broad list of misconduct including bullying, favoritism, pushing athletes through injury, sexual harassment and violating NCAA rules on required athletic hours. However, the document also concludes that there was not sufficient evidence to prove any of those allegations, beyond requiring athletes to train and/or compete while injured or sick.
You can view the full document here. It’s conclusions come after school officials say they conducted interviews with 47 people: every member of the swimming & diving team, the team’s coaches and athletic trainers, and several members of Pepperdine’s athletic department, including Athletics Director Steve Potts.
In addition, SwimSwam has obtained an audio recording of a November 2019 meeting in which a school official tells the swimmers that Spahn has been placed on paid administrative leave pending the results of the investigation. The Pepperdine investigation document is dated December 20, 2019. Last week, Pepperdine officially named Jana Vincent the interim head coach and removed Spahn from the team website. He was still listed as head coach as recently as December 12, per page archives.
Here’s a brief look at the complaints from the team listed in the investigation document, along with the school’s findings:
|Bullying, yelling, demeaning comments, favoritism||insufficient evidence of bullying. Spahn did use profanity at a meet, and there is sufficient evidence of constant yelling and of favoritism in how Spahn treated different swimmers|
|Requiring athletes to train and/or compete while sick or injured||In at least one case, Spahn allowed a swimmer to return to the pool without getting communication of clearance by athletic trainers.|
|Sexual harrassment||insufficient evidence of sexual harrassment|
|Violations of the NCAA’s 20-hour limit on weekly required athletic activities||The investigative committee forwarded this complaint to the school’s compliance department.|
A shared document created by the swimmers includes some more specific complaints, ranging from making swimmers come to practice early to put in lane lines to allegedly “throwing punches at objects out of rage” and kicking a trash can at a meet.
The investigative document does not call for any specific sanction on Spahn, but he has been replaced as head coach and removed from the team website. We’ve reached out to the school and to Spahn for comment, but have not yet received a response.
Update: the school responded with the following statement from Athletic Director Steve Potts:
While the University cannot comment on private employment matters, Pepperdine Athletics takes seriously any concerns or allegations brought forward by student-athletes and investigates them appropriately and thoroughly. The physical and mental well-being of our student-athletes is the number one priority for Pepperdine Athletics. I am confident that the appointment of Coach Vincent as interim head coach of the women’s swimming and diving program will position the program for success going forward.