Investigation into U of M women's basketball found 'negative culture and atmosphere'

WATCH: Investigation into U of M women's basketball found 'negative culture and atmosphere'

MEMPHIS, Tenn. — An external investigation into the University of Memphis women’s basketball team found a “negative culture and atmosphere” around the program.

The report released Thursday details the issues around the team, the head coach and the athletic department, but it did not call for the firing of head coach Melissa McFerrin.

The nine-page report examined the culture of the women’s basketball program. The investigation came after reports of alleged harassment from McFerrin.

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The Pictor Group, which the university hired to conduct the investigation, laid into the culture of the program.

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"Generally," the report reads, "there is a negative culture and atmosphere surrounding the Program."
The group observed that there was a "lack of culture sensitivity and awareness by the Head Coach."

“This manifest itself in inappropriate comments that are perceived as being insensitive or racist, although there does not seem to be ill intent on behalf of the [McFerrin],” per the report.

But issues raised in the report went beyond the head coach: they went to gender equity and the program’s support.

For the program’s support, the report said the poor culture was in part because of in the relationship between McFerrin and former athletic director Tom Bowen.

“There is a strong sense among the head and assistant women’s basketball coaches that the athletic department is not committed to the Women’s Basketball Program,” the report reads.

The investigation also found there were several major disparities between the men’s and women’s basketball programs that need to be addressed, including the university deciding to house only the men’s team at Laurie-Walton Basketball Center, putting the women’s program at a “serious disadvantage."

In a news release, the University of Memphis said it is “in the process of making supportive investments in these areas," including hiring additional staff and a $2.8 million remodeling of Elma Roane Fieldhouse planned for the women’s basketball program.

University of Memphis communications staff never responded to a request from FOX13 to interview president David Rudd, athletic director Laird Veatch and McFerrin.

However, the university did release statements from all three in its news release.

The statement from the University of Memphis president M. David Rudd reads:

“Consistent with our commitment to ensuring a healthy environment for our student-athletes and as a result of a number of player complaints and concerns raised by (head women’s basketball) coach Melissa McFerrin, the University of Memphis engaged The Pictor Group to conduct a comprehensive review of the women’s basketball program. TPG managed an in-depth evaluation of the women’s basketball program including issues related to organizational structure, infrastructure support, culture and the overall experience of our student-athletes. The four-month process included a review of documents and extensive interviews with current and former staff and student-athletes.

“The University is sharing this information as it places the highest value on transparency, integrity and accountability to our student-athletes and the public we serve. The health and well-being of our student-athletes is our highest priority. I have complete confidence in our athletic leadership to develop and implement a plan to address all identified areas of concern, position the program for success and move the Athletic Department forward.” 

The statement from the University of Memphis athletic director Laird Veatch reads:

“I appreciate the leadership of President Rudd and our University Administration for their commitment to supporting our student-athletes and coaches. As I considered this incredible opportunity at the University of Memphis, the administration’s willingness to conduct this thorough review of our women’s basketball program, and be transparent in its findings, signaled to me their genuine commitment to the well-being of our student-athletes. Our administrative team and I look forward to working with coach McFerrin and her staff to position us for a successful future.”

The statement from University of Memphis women’s basketball head coach, Melissa McFerrin reads:

“We have had a series of healthy, productive conversations. Action plans are now in place to insure the success of our program. I am committed to that action plan to allow me to be more fully effective for our team, and I trust that the department and University will also fulfill commitments and support our women’s basketball student-athletes. 

“We are looking forward to moving into the 2019-20 season with a talented and committed group of young women.”

In all, the report made the following 24 recommendations:

1. Engage the Office for Institutional Equity/Title IX and its director, Kenneth Anderson, to offer sensitivity and cultural competency training for the Head Coach and the entire staff. The goal is to improve awareness and communication, and to foster an atmosphere of mutual respect between coaches and student-athletes

2. Engage a consultant or sports psychologist to facilitate an ongoing team-building program related to communication, respect, expectations and accountability for the entire Women’s Basketball Program. Develop a mutual understanding between the student-athletes and coaching staff of the roles and expectations for a Division I program and promote buy-in from everyone associated with the Program. Determine whether the current sports psychologist is the correct individual to continue working with the team, or whether a new approach would be more productive.

3. Ensure that the Head Women’s Basketball Coach has a direct reporting line to the Athletics Director with regular meetings, as well as a consistent reporting line to an experienced senior athletic administrator for Program and administrative support.

4. The designated senior athletic administrator should work with the Head Coach to review management of and communication with staff, development of team policies and procedures, as well as the overall approach to recruitment, talent evaluation and decision-making. The senior athletic administrator or Athletics Director should meet with prospective student-athletes and their parents during on-campus official visits

5. The senior athletic administrator overseeing the Women’s Basketball Program should have a visible presence in and around the Program to be seen in a supportive role and to develop a rapport with the student-athletes and staff. This should include attending practices or team workouts on a regular basis, attending home games and travel with the women’s team on a regular basis.

6. Assess the compliance staff and evaluate whether the individual currently assigned to women’s basketball is the best person to work effectively with the program. Consider adding or assigning a different individual if warranted.

7. As soon as is practical and feasible create a women’s basketball office suite in the Elma Roane Fieldhouse facility.  The plans and timing for creating the office suite as well as other facility improvements should be in collaboration with and communicated to the entire Women’s Basketball Program and could be a significant step in making all feel that the needs of the Program are a priority.

8. The interim or new Athletics Director, Deputy Athletics Director and Senior Women Administrator should meet with the women’s basketball team and staff early in the fall semester. Senior administration should make clear that the Head Coach has its full support and that the student-athletes and Program will be given the tools and resources to be successful.

9. The Committee on Title IX and Gender Equity should be activated as soon as possible with representatives from within the athletics department and University personnel. The internal gender equity review that was conducted in 2017 should be reviewed to determine what issues have been addressed and those that remain. Follow-up should ensure that there is a Gender Equity Plan in place to remedy any deficiencies in a timely manner.

10. Establish benchmarks and performance standards for the Head Women’s Basketball Coach to meet. These should include clearly defined performance indicators that are both quantitative and qualitative and a timeframe for review. Quarterly meetings should take place between the Head Coach, the Athletics Director and senior level administrator working directly with the Program to review progress toward the benchmarks and performance standards.

11. Develop a methodology for informal and formal interviews with student-athletes to assess their experience as a member of the women’s basketball team. Utilize a tool to distribute a survey to all women’s basketball student-athletes twice a year (December and April) to receive direct feedback about their experience.

12. Meet weekly with the senior athletic administrator overseeing the Program. Provide updates on student-athlete and team development and concerns related to the coaching or support staff.  Agree upon the appropriate course of action and provide a written summary of actions taken.

13. Review team policies and procedures, and expectations of the women’s basketball team with the senior athletic administrator overseeing the Program. Provide a written or electronic copy of the team handbook to each student-athlete, coach and member of the support staff working with the Program. Include a listing of all senior level athletic administrators and contact information as part of the team handbook.

14. Collaborate with the compliance staff person assigned to the Program to provide student athletes, managers, coaches and all members of the women’s basketball support staff with the NCAA definition of Countable Athletic-Related Activities (CARA). Establish a procedure for players, coaches and compliance staff to verify the number of hours/week spent on CARA.

15. Discuss a procedure for selecting team captains with the senior athletic administrator and communicate the procedure to the team members. Clearly define the role and expectation of the team captains and communicate their role to all concerned. Meet weekly with team captains to discuss team needs and solicit input from the student-athletes' perspective.

16. Conduct weekly meetings with the coaching staff to create a culture of open dialogue and teamwork.  Seek feedback from associate and assistant coaches regarding needs of the team and individual student-athletes, and input on the weekly practice, travel and competitive schedule.

17. Take the initiative to engage the women’s basketball team and staff in a team-building program with a consultant or sport psychologist. Seek candid feedback from the consultant regarding the Head Coaches’ communication style and management of the team to build a positive team culture.

18. Establish positive reinforcement barometers for the team as well as for individuals (e.g. best effort at practice, best defensive effort during a game, most improved by month).  These goals can be competitive but always positive and clearly communicated.

19. Maintain a log of all meetings between the Head Coach with the women’s basketball team, individual student-athletes, with the coaching staff and support staff members. The log should include date, time, attendees and a list of major topics of discussion. The log is to be shared with the senior athletic administrator on a monthly basis.

20. Improve upon the 2018-19 overall team won-loss record, as well as in American Athletic Conference competition during the 2019-20 season.

21. Create a structure and culture to achieve a team graduation point average (GPA) of 3.0 or better during each semester and for each academic year.

22. Improve upon the retention and eligibility rate of the Women’s Basketball Program.  Benchmark the team’s APR with the other women’s basketball programs consistently finishing in the top half of the American Athletic Conference.

23. Take proactive steps to maintain open communication and create a positive working relationship with staff members who provide support services for the Program (e.g., athletic training, compliance, strength training, academic services).

24. It is strongly recommended that an executive coach be engaged to serve as a confidential mentor and advisor for the Head Coach beginning as soon as possible and continuing through spring 2020.  Ideally, the executive coach should be someone who has been a Head Coach of a Division I program and is skilled in mentoring and coaching others.  Selection of the individual should be mutually acceptable to the Head Coach and senior athletics administrator or Athletics Director.