Amid an internal university investigation into Loyola’s women’s basketball head coach Sheryl Swoopes’ questionable treatment of players, new information shows the NCAA has been aware of Swoopes’ conduct since 2014.
Cate Soane, a player on Loyola’s 2013-14 roster, told The PHOENIX that Swoopes mistreated players in the program from the start of Swoopes’ first season at the university. Soane, now a pre-med student at the University of Illinois at Chicago (UIC), decided after her first season as a Rambler that she wanted to move on from Swoopes and her program.
After Soane made the decision to transfer to play basketball at UIC, Soane sent a letter to the NCAA — the governing body for collegiate athletics — in August 2014 requesting to avoid a redshirt year. NCAA rules state that players who transfer schools must sit out one season, called a redshirt year, before playing for their new universities.
In the five-page letter, Soane detailed her concerns with Loyola’s women’s basketball program, citing specific incidents in which she and her teammates felt mistreated by Swoopes. Three other letters sent to the NCAA, written by people close to the team, backed Soane and also detailed Swoopes’ alleged mistreatment. The PHOENIX viewed copies of those three other letters, but the authors asked The PHOENIX to keep their names anonymous and letters confidential.
Soane said the NCAA failed to respond to her directly, instead asking Swoopes what she thought of the situation. The NCAA also allowed Swoopes to have the final say on whether Soane would be required to redshirt, according to Soane.
“It went to the NCAA and … they just asked Swoopes, ‘Did this happen?’ and she denied it … It became a ‘he said, she said thing,’” said Soane. “[Swoopes] said the letters of support [for Soane from people close to the team] were out of anger because they were [no longer with the program], and that [I] was just a player that was upset because [I] wasn’t getting playing time.”
The NCAA didn’t immediately respond to calls from The PHOENIX.
Loyola Athletic Director Steve Watson, who came to Loyola in January 2015, said he has no knowledge of Soane’s situation and declined to comment on her allegations. However, Watson told The PHOENIX that the university investigation of Loyola’s women’s basketball program will be led by a group outside of Loyola’s Athletic Department.
“We’re hoping that it moves as quickly as possible,” said Watson. “While I’m not privy to all the details of the investigation, I know it will be a very thorough and complete look into the program.”
Former Loyola Athletic Director Grace Calhoun, who hired Swoopes in 2013 and was at Loyola when Soane played for the Ramblers, did not return calls from The PHOENIX. A Loyola Athletic Department spokesperson said Swoopes declined to comment.
Soane told The PHOENIX that during the 2013-14 season, Swoopes kicked a player off Loyola’s team after the player made comments to her teammates about Swoopes’ coaching. The player who was released from the team has asked to remain anonymous.
After Swoopes cut the player from the program, the player texted three former teammates that she planned to voice her concerns to Loyola’s Athletic Department, according to Soane. After Swoopes found out about these text messages, the coach berated Soane, in what Soane said was a meeting with select players, because she was friends with the player who was released from the program.
Swoopes called Soane “disloyal to the team” and encouraged her players to join in scolding her, according to Soane.
Because of this alleged harassment, meetings were set up between the team and what players were told was a “student services” department, according to multiple sources close to the situation. There is no such department at Loyola. In those purportedly confidential meetings, players were asked to detail the situation and voice their concerns, Soane said.
Soane said she later found out from the player who Swoopes kicked off the team that the meetings were set up to get information out of the players. Sources said they are unsure whether Swoopes coordinated the meetings.
Soane said her downward spiral began after Swoopes cut the player, her best friend, from the team.
“Swoopes told us she wasn’t coming back and I asked ‘why,’” said Soane. “But it was like ‘I shouldn’t have questioned her authority.’ In practice, Swoopes said, ‘Cate, why can’t you talk? You had a lot to say earlier in the meeting.’ And I remember breaking down and crying … That was my breaking point.”
This wasn’t the first run-in between Soane and Swoopes’ coaching staff — but it wasn’t the last time, either.
During the 2013-14 season, Cate Soane’s mother Michaela said she was concerned for Cate’s well-being after Cate called her, sobbing. Michaela called one of Swoopes’ assistant coaches to confide in her and ask her to check up on Cate. But Michaela said Swoopes, who wasn’t believed to be on the line, listened in on the call. Cate and Michaela, who requested that the assistant coach’s name remain confidential, were unsure if Swoopes listened to the conversation on a third line or if she was in the room with the assistant coach.
Soane said that after her mom’s call, she and her parents were asked to attend a meeting with Swoopes and her staff. At that meeting, Swoopes belittled Michaela and demanded that Cate prove her loyalty to the coaching staff or risk losing her scholarship, according to the now-UIC student. Michaela and Cate said that at that meeting, Swoopes mentioned details that she would not have otherwise known about without having listened to Michaela’s phone call with the assistant coach.
“[After the meeting,] they told me to stop talking to my parents, stop talking to my family, and if I have to talk to anyone, to talk to them,” said Cate Soane. “I felt even more trapped at that point, even more anxiety, more stress because now I had nobody to talk to.”
Soane, a 21-year-old Glen Ellyn, Illinois, native, said her time with the Ramblers was “the season from hell.”
“That whole season was a sick psych experiment,” she said. “Some people I couldn’t even recognize by the end of the season because of the amount of stress.”
Now, more than one and a half years after Soane shared her concerns with the NCAA, members of Loyola’s women’s basketball program are voicing similar concerns to the ones Soane had in 2013 and 2014.
On April 15, Loyola launched a university investigation of Swoopes’ program after The PHOENIX reported 10 of the program’s 12 returning players planned to leave the team or requested to be released from their scholarships.
“Any time there are allegations of student-athlete mistreatment, it is more than concerning,” wrote Loyola Deputy Director of Athletics Jermaine Truax in a statement released by the Athletic Department. “Thus, the Loyola University Chicago Department of Intercollegiate Athletics has asked for an independent and comprehensive University investigation into the women’s basketball program.”
Swoopes is “aware of” and “will fully cooperate” with the university’s investigation, according to the Athletic Department.
Many have speculated whether Swoopes’ demeanor truly crosses the line. Soane said the season took a toll on her unlike any other.
“We’re not soft,” Soane said. “It took everything, mentally, for me to get through that year. Something I don’t think anyone should be a victim of, and I don’t use the word victim [lightly].”
Soane’s full letter of appeal can be found here. The names redacted in the letter are of people no longer with Loyola’s women’s basketball program. The PHOENIX redacted these names for privacy reasons.