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Editorial: Uproar among the Bengals

No one outside of the SUNY Buffalo State women’s soccer team can know the full story of what transpired between head coach Nicholas DeMarsh and the Bengals players that left some in such distress. However, the allegations made by 11 athletes who quit deserve to be taken seriously by the school, which appears to be doing so.

Timothy Gordon, vice president of student affairs at Buffalo State, said Monday the college will commission an independent investigation of the program and the complaints against DeMarsh.

“The complaints shared are indeed troubling and describe an environment that is not aligned with our institution’s values,” Gordon said. The administrator said the men’s head coach, Francesco Cardillo, is overseeing day-to-day operations of the women’s program while the independent review is conducted.

The athletics department, at least publicly, has seemed less responsive to the players’ concerns. The school said Athletic Director Jerry S. Boyes was investigating the players’ complaints, while offering no comments from Boyes.

Ten of the players shared with The News a letter they sent to Boyes on Saturday, expressing frustrations that their concerns were not being properly addressed.

In the players’ initial complaints, they called for the school to remove DeMarsh, accusing him of embarrassing a player, holding grudges against those who stand up to him, mocking a player’s dietary restrictions, diagnosing a player with anxiety and depression, and telling a player seeking treatment for a concussion that “sometimes we just shouldn’t go to the trainers.”

The players added that “some of the things we have heard and seen from DeMarsh are downright unspeakable.”

In their follow-up letter on Saturday, players said they felt that the administration was brushing off their complaints.

“To have 10 girls leave the team in the last week of the season should speak volumes to the magnitude of this issue, and as such, demand full attention into the seriousness of this matter,” the letter said. They’re right.

Sports history is filled with demanding coaches who could push their players, or manipulate their emotions, trying to bring out their best on the field. Vince Lombardi and Bill Parcells did not endear themselves to many of their NFL players, at least until they won championships together. Bob Knight, the former Indiana University basketball coach, is known as much for his deeds of infamy – such as throwing a chair on the court during a game as well as grabbing one of his players by the throat – as for the three national titles he won with the Hoosiers.

Indiana administrators ended Knight’s career there in 2000, after the coach was accused of grabbing a student by the arm during a verbal confrontation.

Knight, Parcells and many other “old-school” coaches could be hated by some of their players and treasured by others. Some became friends for life, thanking them for helping mold their character. Here, some former players have come to DeMarsh’s defense.

Meghan Jarrell, one of his former Buffalo State players, told The News she had nothing but a positive experience with DeMarsh.

“I’m not going to lie to you, he’s a tough coach, but he doesn’t pull any punches about that. He’s a tough coach, but he’s a fair coach.”

Critics of the Buffalo State players’ complaints fall into stereotypes about coddled members of Generation Z who don’t handle adversity well. But when half a team quits at the end of a season, that makes a strong statement, one that demands attention. Simple complaints over playing time or strenuous practices would typically be lodged in less dramatic ways.

The school is wise to appoint an outside entity to examine the allegations against DeMarsh. Buffalo State can determine how to proceed based on facts. At the very least there are communication issues between the coach and his team that need to be addressed.

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