Philadelphia, PA – It hasn't gotten nearly the same level of attention as the Mike Rice case at Rutgers, but nonetheless there's a similar issue slowly brewing with another college basketball program.
Off the beaten path over in the Horizon League, the Green Bay Phoenix are beginning to unravel an alleged case of abuse themselves involving head coach Brian Wardle and former walk-on Ryan Bross.
Bross, a 7-1 center from Menomonee Falls, Wisconsin, spent his freshman year with the Phoenix in 2012-13, but did not see any game action and has already announced that he is transferring to Concordia University at the Division III level in hopes of playing next season. The move for Bross comes on the heels of his allegations of abuse by coach Wardle.
Relating his experience with Wardle to the Green Bay Press Gazette, Bross describes his former coach as someone who used homophobic slurs against him and encouraged him to violate his religious beliefs by having premarital sex with a girl, believing it would improve his play.
According to Bross, he was also subjected to rather humiliating circumstances during a preseason workout drill known as "boot camp."
During an exercise that involved running up and down hills, Bross began to feel sick and pleaded with Wardle for a break, but instead the coach mocked the youngster and told him to go into the woods where he subsequently lost control of his bowels. Even after suffering through that demeaning episode, Bross claims the coach ordered him back into the drill and accused him of letting his team down.
In addition to the accounts furnished by Bross, another former player, Brennan Cougill has also spoken out about Wardle and his approach to coaching. In a letter written by his mother, Cougill claims Wardle bullied and abused him verbally and ignored his issues with depression.
Cougill, who first attended Iowa as a freshman out of high school and then moved to Kirkwood Community College where he was a Third-Team Division II National Junior College Athletic Association All-American in 2010-11, was third on the team in scoring this past season with 9.0 ppg as he started 10 of the 30 games in which he appeared.
Wardle has denied the allegations, claiming the welfare of his players is a top priority and the version of the events related to the Press Gazette are inaccurate. The school has launched an investigation, which Wardle says he has cooperated fully but cannot go into further detail about at present.
Fellow big man Alec Brown, a starter in all 34 games who averaged 14.1 ppg and 6.0 rpg, finds the allegations of his former teammates rather surprising and comes to the defense of Wardle, saying he believes Bross and Cougill are lying.
Also defending Wardle is South Suburban Junior College coach John Pigatti who says he has attended a number of Green Bay practices and never saw or heard anything that was negative. The former coach of Sultan Muhammad, who is one of four players who have left the Green Bay program since the beginning of the year, Pigatti never heard any issues coming from Muhammad either.
Unlike Rice at Rutgers, there has yet to be any definitive video evidence to support Bross and Cougill, but the school is not taking any chances, knowing full well how a botched investigation can rapidly spiral out of control and spark polarizing stances stemming from the traditional media coverage and social media platforms that can breathe life into a story.
Indiana's Bob Knight had his share of recorded "indiscretions" against former players and Ohio State head football coach Woody Hayes also starred in his own moment of celluloid ignominy when he punched Clemson linebacker Charlie Bauman in the 1978 Gator Bowl, but at this point this case is a matter of he said, he said, at least until the investigation has fully run its course.
Still just 33 years old and with four years remaining on his contract which pays him in the neighborhood of $200,000 per year, Wardle's reputation and career are on the line even if the investigation finds that the allegations are unsubstantiated. Even if vindicated, the coach will have a cloud of suspicion hovering over him that could stymie his attempts to recruit and assemble future squads at UWGB, and that's not good for anyone.