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Reports: Purdue Coach Accused of Creating Toxic Environment

Tabatha Wethal

Purdue University women's basketball head coach Sharon Versyp is accused of creating a toxic and hostile environment, according to the Lafayette Journal & Courier.

Purdue University is investigating if Versyp and Terry Kix, director of women's basketball operations, violated the university’s anti-harrassment policy. Versyp is accused of verbally attacking players, using personal information to “bring them down” and “bullying” a member of her coaching staff, the newspaper reported.

Kix, who reports to Versyp, is also accused of several misconduct incidents, including cussing out players, and hitting a player’s arm and knocking a cell phone out of her hand, according to an internal document. Versyp was “aware of Ms. Kix’s conduct” and allowed it to continue, the document says.

It’s not clear what stage the investigation is at or if it’s close to a conclusion. The document obtained by the Journal & Courier doesn’t indicate if it’s a final report. The Office of Institutional Equality website said internal investigations can last 45 days, but it’s not clear when the Versyp process officially began.

Versyp, the program’s all-time winningest coach with 301 victories and a 1988 Purdue graduate who is from Mishawaka, is set to begin her 16th and final season with the Boilermakers. Former Boilermaker star Katie Gearlds will become the head coach next season.

At the end of last season, five players with eligibility remaining transferred out of the program within 48 hours of an announcement that Versyp would return for the 2021-22 season.

Assistant coach Melanie Balcomb left the program shortly after the season ended with a loss in the Big Ten tournament in March, even though her contract ran through June 30, 2021.

According to the Journal & Courier, the allegations in the document include:

After a loss at Wisconsin on Dec. 31, 2018, the coaching staff, including Versyp and Kix, became frustrated with the performance of a then-freshman on the team. Versyp moved the player and a teammate to the end of the bench.

The coach did not allow the two players into the locker room afterward, saying they were “selfish and not for the team.”

On the plane ride to West Lafayette, Kix confronted a player, whom she thought was laughing. The player was in the rear of the plane, listening to music on headphones.

Kix “began yelling and screaming” at the player. After the player denied laughing and returned to listening to her music, Kix called her a two-word expletive and hit her on the arm, “knocking the phone out of her hand.”

As Kix continued yelling, other players pulled her away. Versyp then sent assistant coach Beth Couture to the back of the plane, and the players were not allowed to talk for the rest of the trip.

The report said Versyp was aware of the altercation but later told the player’s mother that “some tough love is good sometimes."

On February 20, 2020, after the Boilermakers lost to Michigan State on a last-second basket, Versyp accused a player of having “attacked (Versyp) and Ms. Kix in an interview about the game.”

At an ensuing practice, Versyp and Kix made life “miserable” for the player and “made an example” of her to the team, telling her that she was “pathetic” and “did not belong here.”

Last season, Kix singled out a player in front of other team members, calling her a “terrible leader” and “cussing her out.” Also last season during a film session, Kix told a player in front of teammates that she was an “(expletive) pathetic leader. Your teammates don’t look up to you.”

Versyp engaged in “bullying” of her staff, including directing players at one point not to speak with an assistant coach. Versyp also “unreasonably interfered with the coach’s “employment,” though no details are listed.

Versyp on numerous occasions called players “fat” in front of their teammates.

A former Purdue women's basketball player from the 2018-19 season denied some of the harassment allegations against Versyp and Kix in an interview with WLFI-TV on Wednesday. The player, who was not identified in the story, said Versyp and the coaching staff did not create a "toxic" environment for players and did not use the word "fat," like the document alleges. She also said she didn't witness the incident on the airplane involving Kix, but that she was in a different part of the plane at the time. 

A university spokesman told the Journal & Courier that the school had no comment.

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