“The behavior exhibited by our women’s volleyball student-athletes is simply unacceptable and will not be tolerated,” Grace Calhoun, the director of athletics and recreation, said in a statement released by the university. “We expect our student-athletes to represent the University of Pennsylvania in a first-class and respectful manner at all times, and in this case, our women’s volleyball student-athletes did not meet that standard. We have reviewed the matter with the appropriate University partners and will determine additional steps in the coming days and weeks.”
The school’s volleyball program has been clouded by controversy since the hiring of Iain Braddak as its coach in April 2018, with eight players filing formal grievances with the athletic department over his alleged conduct. In May, the Daily Pennsylvanian, the student newspaper, reported on what it described as “a power struggle” between players on the team and the athletic department.
Students questioned the hiring of Braddak and expressed concerns about his conduct, according to the report. They also were frustrated with what they said was an inadequate response by the athletic department to their concerns. The Daily Pennsylvanian detailed the grievances of eight players and reported that an ex-captain quit the team over her dissatisfaction with the school’s inaction.
“I had to take a stand for what I believe in,” Caroline Furrer told the student paper. “So, I didn’t quit the team, I quit Penn Athletics and the coaching staff because of a lack of action and support. When eight out of 20 young women file grievances against a coach, there should be action and support — we got neither.”
Three of eight incidents women described were confirmed by multiple players, according to the Daily Pennsylvanian. Those include Braddak telling an assistant coach to hit a player in the face with the ball during practice; accusing players of bullying over a misplaced jacket; and telling a player that among the things worse than a decrease in playing time were heroin addiction and suicide.
The school’s athletic department initially did not comment on its decision to cancel the season but later issued a statement to the Philadelphia Inquirer: “We want to make it explicit that the decision to cancel the final two games was in no way connected to the grievances submitted last season by volleyball student-athletes. If this behavior had been exhibited by any of our 33 intercollegiate teams, there would be similar consequences.”
Braddak previously was an assistant coach at Columbia. Before that, he was the head volleyball coach at Smith, the U.S. Merchant Marine Academy and Culver-Stockton, where he created the men’s program and was an assistant for the women’s team. In his first season at Penn, the Quakers finished 6-19 — the worst mark in the program’s history — and 3-11 in the Ivy League. This season, the team was 11-10, with a 4-8 conference record, and had won two consecutive matches before its season was canceled.
Under Katie Schumacher-Cawley, who left the school for an assistant’s job at Penn State, her alma mater, the team finished the 2017 season with a 12-11 record, the program’s first winning mark since 2013. Her departure left the school searching for its third head coach in three seasons.