BY: COLIN LIKAS AND MATTHEW VANTRYON | EDITOR-IN-CHIEF AND ASST. SPORTS EDITOR
Former Butler University women’s basketball players and coaches continue to speak out about the program’s 12-year coach Beth Couture.
Couture again declined to comment this week.
The Butler Collegian ran a front-page story titled “Former players allege verbal abuse, mistreatment” last week.
Since then, The Collegian has received feedback from former players and former assistant coaches voicing support for Couture based on their experience in the program.
Courtney Lickliter, a member of the women’s basketball program from 2003-2005 and a team manager from 2005-2006, recounted how the team would have a tough practice on the court.
Later that night, women’s basketball coach Beth Couture would be “razzing her in her office” because Lickliter wore her hair down when she ran.
For Lickliter and other former members of the Butler women’s basketball team, one thing was clear in their comments regarding their time in the program—hard work was a necessity, but they reaped the rewards.
A source close to program, who wished to remain anonymous to protect her job security, said she loved her experience with Couture because of the coach’s willingness to go above and beyond to help.
“My all-in-all experience was great,” the source said. “I wouldn’t trade it for anything in the world, I would go back in a heartbeat. My experiences with the coaching staff were great. Anything I needed, they’d bend over backwards for me.”
Terra Burns, a member of the women’s basketball program from 2007-2011, said that even as a freshman, Couture provided support for her.
“I could go to her about anything,” Burns said. “Anytime I was concerned or nervous, she supported me. (When I needed something), the person I would call was Coach Couture. She never judged me for anything I told her.”
The anonymous source added that while Couture and the rest of the coaching staff were supportive, they were honest about what it took to be successful.
“You just knew exactly what needed to be done,” she said. “You just put on the grind and did what you had to do.”
Angel Mason, a member of the program from 2000-2004, said hard work was a part of the program and she reaped the benefits.
“She spoke a lot about togetherness and working hard,” Mason said. “It wasn’t always fun to work hard, but we would reap the benefit of it. We realized we could be successful if we stayed together and if we did the things she was telling us we needed to do.”
Susan Lester, a member of the program from 2006-2010, said the rigors of Couture’s program are part of the collegiate athletic experience.
“If you lose a game—the sprint, it’s going to happen,” she said. “Was I happy about it when it happened? No, not at all. At the time, you’re really upset about it; you don’t want to do it. But once it’s done, it’s done. It’s part of the learning process.”
She added that she has benefited from those tough experiences.
“I feel like it has prepared me for who I am now in society and has made me better and taught me how to deal with certain situations on a daily basis. I appreciate what they did for me,” Lester said.
Jackie Novinger (nee Closser), a member of the program from 2003-2007, said that “tough love” does not necessarily coincide with harshness.
“I don’t think it’s always rainbows and butterflies, especially when you’re a Division I athlete,” Novinger (Closser) said. “I think they’re going to push you as much as they can possibly push you. It’s not that they’re trying to be mean or don’t like you, it’s that they know what is best for their program.”
Lickliter said the rigors of a Big East program necessitate high intensity.
“I imagine there is pressure there to make girls know this is serious—(to let them know) you are on a scholarship, and we are now in the Big East,” Lickliter said. “You can’t take plays off. You can’t take practices off. You kind of have to suck it up, because we have to keep this thing going in the right direction.”
Novinger (Closser) said that while conflict is inevitable, it is up to the players to determine their attitude.
“I think any high-level program, they’re going to have their issues, and there’s going to be head-butting going on between coaches and players,” she said. “I guess the question is, are the players strong enough to persevere through those problems?”
Seph Hatley is a former assistant coach who was with the team for six years over an eight-year time period. He said he left the program for reasons not related to the head coach. Hatley said nothing out of the ordinary happened on the team in regards to extra-long practices.
Hatley said the team was not allowed to practice for more than 20 hours per week, and the players signed off on the hours before the sheets were sent in.
“If we had a bigger practice, sometimes it would be one day off (afterward), sometimes it would be two days off,” he said. “Sometimes, it would be light position work (afterward). That’s not an every day of a week type thing.”
Hatley also said the team had a policy where if a player did not practice before a game, they would not start the next day.
“If the kid is really sick or hurt, you’re not 100 percent sure that, overnight, they’ll be better,” he said. “You have to plan on ‘what if.’ That’s always been a thing. It’s no punishment. It’s more along the lines of your game plan and preparing to give your team and everybody on that team the knowledge to be able to play.”
He said the decision on whether or not a player can participate in a game is up to the team’s athletic trainer.
“We take everything from a trainer, and what they decide is what goes,” Hatley said. “There’s never where you go and tell a kid, ‘You need to play through this.’ It’s what the trainer tells you, and that’s what you go with.”
Cameron McDaniel, a Butler alumni and former Butler football coach from 1998-2002, hosted an international student during the 2006-2007 season who was a member of the women’s basketball program. McDaniel said the player was having issues understanding her role on the team, and McDaniel approached Couture about the situation.
Despite McDaniel saying he made it clear that the issue was “not about x’s and o’s, but about the benefit and well-being of your player,” he said Couture reacted angrily.
“That conversation turned into her telling me she did not appreciate me coming in and speaking to her, that I was questioning her about her coaching tactics,” McDaniel said.
McDaniel said Couture contacted BUPD and had him escorted out of her office.
McDaniel said he contacted Athletic Director Barry Collier after the incident, and Couture later apologized.
McDaniel said he feels Couture intimidated team members.
“It was a game of, there’s a lot of pitting players against each other,” McDaniel said. “Instead of taking responsibility as the adult in this situation, as the person that is supposed to be the leader, she really ruled by trying to intimidate. (Student-athletes) should be able to come to you for anything. That type of environment did not exist.”
McDaniel questioned whether or not anyone is holding Couture accountable.
“Somebody has to sign off and say, ‘You’re okay and you’re doing a great job.’ It’s almost as if there’s not enough people paying attention to what goes on day to day,” he said. “At the end of the day, everybody should be held accountable for their actions.”
Senior Evan Schroeder, who has been a member of the women’s practice squad for three years, said in a message to the Collegian that “major sketchiness” has occurred with the coaches recently. He did not comment further on the matter.
After reading your original article, it is hard to believe that the issue with Couture’s teams was due to the young women not understanding the concept of “reaping the rewards of hard work,” as is suggested by some of the comments above. Here are some examples:
1) Claire Freeman, who left BU after her sophomore year (2011), was instrumental in leading Indiana Wesleyan to a National Championship in 2013.
2) Jenna Cobb, who left BU after her sophomore year (2012) was the Atlantic Sun Tournament Player of the Year and helped lead FGCU to the Tournament Championship and a berth in the NCAA Tournament this year.
3) Hannah Douglas, who left BU after her sophomore year (2013), “… emerged as an important cog for the No. 1-ranked team in the country,” reported the Banner-Graphic in an article on the DePauw University’s women’s basketball team.
4) Liz Stratman, one of four players leaving this year, recently earned the Big East Defensive Player of the Year Award.
And the list goes on…
Now I ask you, do any of these athletes seem like they are lacking the ethic of hard work??
The sad part of this whole story is that Barry Collier was apprised of the situation TWO YEARS AGO when 11 players went to him as one body (risking retribution from the coaching staff) to present their concerns and ask for help. What did he do? He declined to take their concerns seriously, resulting in the problems festering and continuing to get worse. Under skillful leadership, or that of someone who really cared, this would not have been allowed to happen.
Well, my hope is that this is a turning point for the Women’s Basketball Program and that a favorable change will occur, befitting an institution that is the caliber of Butler University.