Suspension of Western Kentucky’s swimming program leads Mollie McNeel to Iowa State

Rachel Given

Hazing, the practice of playing unpleasant tricks on someone or forcing someone to do unpleasant things, is usually not tolerated on college campuses.

And recently, the act landed Western Kentucky’s swimming and diving program in hot water.

Earlier this year, Bowling Green Police seized beer kegs, drugs, picture boards of nude, highly intoxicated students, cellphones and cameras from an off-campus address often referred to as “the party house,” according to the school’s student newspaper, the WKU Herald.

Both the men’s and women’s swimming teams at Western Kentucky were accused of hazing and suspended five years. Now-ISU swimmer Mollie McNeel was a swimmer ending her junior year at Western Kentucky when the news hit.

“[The team] is supposed to come back, but I’ll believe it when I see it,” McNeel said.

A freshman and a member of the men’s team, Collin Craig, reported the incidents, according to the WKU Herald.

“I never experienced [the hazing], I thought it was just like any other college,” McNeel said “It never got super out of hand, I never saw someone forced to drink alcohol.”

In the Investigation Ruling Report, Western Kentucky’s swimming and diving program had violated the university’s Student Code of Conduct, Discrimination and Harassment Policy and Title IX’s Sexual Misconduct/Assault Policy.

Physical abuse such as forced use or consumption of alcohol or drugs, paddling, lineups and calisthenics (physical exercises) was also reported.

Although there weren’t any witnesses to the abuse, police found enough evidence to conclude the team had engaged in the conduct, according to the report.

As reported by the WKU Herald, investigators also found WKU head coach Bruce Marchionda had known about the hazing and harassment since 2012 based on an email from a former team member.

He disciplined the team, but the punishments were “often inconsistent and often handled during the fall semesters when major competitions and championships were not at stake,” according to the Investigation Ruling Report.

McNeel remembers being told to stay out of the investigation because it just involved the men’s team. The men’s team had a lot of meetings, and she’d been given updates throughout the investigation.

“Sixteen of the men [on the team] were interviewed by Title IX. None of the women,” McNeel said.

McNeel said the men’s team had come to terms with being cut and thought of it as a possibility. When it turned out to be men and women, McNeel remembered the girls “busted out crying” and were in shock. 

“I was blindsided, honestly, especially being on the women’s team,” McNeel said.

The investigation started in January but wasn’t brought to the public until the decision to cut the teams was set after the season ended in April.

“The media were really negative […] and they really only told one side of the story,” McNeel said. “It was a really dark time.”

After the decision, McNeel started searching for schools to finish her last year of collegiate swimming.

“I have been swimming since I was five and I didn’t want it to end because somebody told me I had to end it,” McNeel said. “I wanted to be done on my terms and I wasn’t ready. I mentally had another year in me.”

ISU coach Duane Sorenson had seen the stories that ran in the paper, but he and assistant swim coach Kelly Nordell had gone through team cuts before.

“We both had gone through what [McNeel] was going through and we could really empathize with her,” Sorenson said.

Sorenson only heard rave reviews from past friends and teammates about McNeel when the question of recruiting her came up.

“We needed help with our distance free [event], [and] a number of our women from Nebraska [McNeel’s home state] knew her,” Sorenson said. “We found out we were one of the few schools in the country that had her double major.”

The team also had leftover scholarship money and during her visit, McNeel “really seemed to click” with the university and the swimming program.  

“Everything was a perfect storm, everything came together,” Sorenson said.

Ever since that time, McNeel has adjusted to becoming a Cyclone.

“I’m really excited to be here […] so far I think [Iowa State] is a great fit and I’m having a lot of fun,” McNeel said.

Editor’s note: The headline on this story was changed from “Hazing incident leads Mollie McNeel to Iowa State” to “Suspension of Western Kentucky’s swimming program leads Mollie McNeel to Iowa State” to better reflect the story.