Seton Hall softball coach accused of verbally abusive, insensitive behavior

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The Newark (N.J.) Star-Ledger has published a critical account of the actions of Seton Hall's softball coach, Paige Smith, charging a pattern of verbally abusive and capricious behavior — namely, questioning student-athletes who prioritized school or family over athletics — as well as consistently indifferent or obstructive responses by the university administration.

Star-Ledger columnist Dave D'Alessandro has compiled a series of charges leveled against Smith by current and former players. While eye-opening, and in some cases stunningly insensitive, the allegations are, for now, just that — allegations — because Seton Hall has not permitted Smith to speak on her own behalf, and has only responded with carefully worded, vague statements about the matter.

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Smith has coached at Seton Hall for just under a year. The allegations leveled by players and their parents include the following:

• When one player, who had pitched a total of three innings all season, asked to have off one weekend to spend a last weekend with her Marine husband before he shipped out for a tour of Afghanistan, Smith allegedly replied, "You’re needed here Friday and Saturday. As long as the other pitchers aren’t hurt, maybe you can go home early Sunday. But I’m not going to look favorably upon this."

• Two sophomore players were given the opportunity to make a presentation to Johnson & Johnson as part of their classwork at the Business School, but would have to miss a team trip to San Diego. Smith reportedly told the rest of the team that the sophomores, non-starters, were "choosing that team over this team," and added that if they missed that trip, they would be suspended for all other away trips. (She later relented.)

• Smith may have capriciously cut a player for missing games to attend class, after initially telling the players that skipping games was acceptable. One player claimed to have missed 20 classes in the spring semester alone because of softball commitments.

• Players charged that Smith exceeded the NCAA's practice limit of 20 hours per week by making players arrive 15 minutes early. Smith also allegedly ordered a player to do the team's laundry at 1 a.m. while on a road trip at a Jacksonville, Fla. Holiday Inn. And Smith apparently at least once divided the team into workout groups with names such as "aborted fetuses" and "booze bags."

• Former coach Ray Vander May was told when he was fired in 2012 that the school would honor the scholarship commitments made to his recruits, and now has been told that Smith will not be honoring those scholarships. He refused to take extra severance pay in return for signing a confidentiality agreement.

Smith, age 32, was hired last June to replace Vander May, who was removed from the job after 16 years, two Big East Championships (2004 and 2005) and five NCAA tournament appearances. Smith brought a record of 169-104, with two NCAA tournament appearances, in five years at Division II Adelphi. Her record in her first year was 21-30; Vander May's record in his final season was 21-32.

In recent years, universities have had to deal with increasingly disturbing allegations of misbehavior on the part of coaches. In most cases, if the allegations later prove true, the blowback has consumed more than just the coach; it has swept up members of the administration as well. Despite that, Seton Hall has not acted to many players' and parents' satisfaction in even addressing the idea that a problem exists.

Seton Hall athletic director Pat Lyons issued a statement to the Star-Ledger: "There are procedures in place to monitor the welfare of all of our student-athletes and insure adherence to NCAA Compliance regulations. Every issue brought to the attention of the Athletic Department and University is taken very seriously. We thoroughly investigate all allegations in accordance with University and Athletic Department policies.

"It is our policy to not comment publicly on issues related to our teams and student-athletes. This is in order to protect the privacy of our student-athletes as required by law and to maintain the integrity of the process."

The problem with that, parents say, is that there is no "process." Several parents reported having tried to contact the administration, including university president Gabriel Esteban, with no response even after months of inquiry.

Seton Hall softball coach Paige Smith lands in the hot seat

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