An independent investigation of complaints from the women's soccer team at SUNY Buffalo State found no evidence that the head coach mishandled the physical or mental well-being of his players.
Nor did he violate any NCAA rules.
But the investigation did raise enough questions about the leadership style and professionalism of longtime coach Nicholas DeMarsh that the college has yet to make a decision on his future with the team. That decision will be made in the coming weeks.
Those are the latest developments in an ongoing coaching controversy that began in the fall. That's when a dozen members of the Buffalo State women's soccer team left the squad at the end of the season and called for the removal of DeMarsh for being "unprofessional, hurtful and ultimately detrimental to one's mental health and self-confidence."
Timothy Gordon, vice president for student affairs at Buffalo State, on Tuesday released an eight-page executive summary of the independent investigation.
"In general, the independent review did not substantiate complaints regarding the handling of student-athlete injuries, mental health, or physical well-being," Gordon said in a prepared statement. "Nor did investigators conclude that any NCAA violations occurred."
"However," Gordon said, "the report confirmed concerns related to leadership style, professionalism and team culture. The investigators described an atmosphere that is inconsistent with our institution’s values – we must, and will, strive for a better environment, leadership and overall experience for our student-athletes."
The complaints from roughly half of the Buffalo State players on the team cited 16 instances in which they believe DeMarsh violated both NCAA principles and the college’s code of conduct.
Allegations included singling out and embarrassing a player; holding personal grudges against players who stand up to him; and telling a player crying in pain that she needed to “keep it together.”
But the investigation, conducted by the Syracuse-based law firm Bond, Schoeneck & King, was unable to find evidence to support the allegations.
Investigators interviewed 33 people, including 25 members of the women's soccer team from 2018 and 2019, as well as DeMarsh, who was interviewed in the presence of his attorney. He did not return a phone call Tuesday from The News.
For instance, the review did not produce additional evidence to substantiate claims that DeMarsh discouraged a player from going to the trainer for a concussion. In fact, two players said they had just the opposite experience.
The report noted, however, that DeMarsh did expect his players to know the difference between being "hurt" and really being "injured" given the short soccer season and the risk of the trainer taking them out of play for a few weeks.
In regard to complaints that DeMarsh played favorites – creating a divisive atmosphere on the team – the coach acknowledged to investigators that he used the term "favorites" for those who "work the hardest" and "get the job done." But, DeMarsh said, he used that to motivate others on the team to work harder.
The coach also used the term "practice players" when describing several of those who lodged complaints against him. He told investigators those players were "not good enough to be on the team and should have been cut from the start."
"Many of the student-athletes interviewed suggested that Coach DeMarsh's outward use of the term 'favorites' along with certain of his decisions that seemed unfair caused them to feel frustrated and alienated from the rest of the team and that it diminished their self-confidence, resulting in several of them quitting the team," the report stated.
And in regard to player complaints about team culture and the coach's leadership, the report noted one of DeMarsh's halftime speeches, where he yelled and cursed at the team. He told his players they could go to their parents or the athletics director, but he would "get rid of all of them before he loses his job."
The next day, DeMarsh informed the athletics director that he lost his temper and was told to apologize to the team.
DeMarsh acknowledged to investigators that "he had become increasingly concerned about his own professional career at the college" and told the team on more than one occasion that "their performance was critical to his livelihood and that he was a single father with a son to feed."
Once the complaints against DeMarsh were made public in November, former players rallied around the veteran soccer coach and described him as a tough but fair coach, who taught them lessons they’ll remember for the rest of their lives.
DeMarsh, the women's head soccer coach, has a career record of 141-138-39 for a winning percentage of .505.
In 2016, DeMarsh led Buffalo State to its first-ever SUNYAC championship and NCAA championship, finishing 17-1-3, a school record for wins. He was also named Coach of the Year that season, the third time overall.
This past season season, however, his team finished 6-11-1.
DeMarsh remains an employee of Buffalo State, where he works as fitness center manager, but the men’s soccer head coach Francesco Cardillo has been overseeing day-to-day operations of the women’s program pending an outcome of the investigation.
"While I have not yet reached a decision regarding program leadership for next season, I felt it prudent to share the results of the independent review in a timely manner," Gordon said. "I expect to make a decision – in consultation with Jerry Boyes, director of intercollegiate athletics – about women’s soccer coaching responsibilities in the coming weeks."
Read the report: