After a year-long evaluation of the volleyball program, the athletics department has decided to reassign 17-year head coach Peg Scofield to administrative duties.
The decision was reached in early March and announced in a one-sentence press release by the athletics department March 5.
Scofield, who reached 300 career wins this season and is the winningest coach in Yale volleyball history, said the decision was unjust.
“I don’t think it’s in the best interest of the program, and I don’t think the process was fair,” Scofield said. “Suffice it to say, I don’t necessarily believe there was due process. If they wanted to work this out, they could have.”
Last year’s captain, Betty Picinic ’03, said concerns about the program were brought to the athletics department by team members during the fall 2001 season. With those complaints in mind, Athletics Director Tom Beckett placed the program on review for a year and brought in University of New Haven athletics director Debbie Chin as a consultant. After Chin monitored the spring 2002 season, the process escalated during the fall 2002 season when Chin and members of the athletics department attended games and practices. Scofield knew from the beginning that Chin was monitoring the program, Picinic said.
After the season, members of the athletics department and University faculty met with team members individually and ultimately reached the decision to hire a new coach.
While Scofield expressed disappointment with the decision, players defended the process.
“The administration did a great job evaluating the program, and it came to the right decision,” Picinic said. “The administration knew that the program could be improved, and that for both parties — the coach and the players — it would be best if there were a break.”
Lindsey Stimpson ’03 spoke along the same lines.
“The coach and the team were going in two completely different directions,” Stimpson said. “There were so many perspectives on the issue that it seems with all the wisdom and caution that this is a justified decision.”
Beckett said he was unable to comment on Scofield’s reassignment because it is a personnel issue.
Assistant coach Larry Donofrio, who was also reassigned in the department, has doubts about the decision.
“I can only speculate as to why the administration would treat an employee with 17 successful years at Yale the way they have,” Donofrio said. “Peg is one of the most successful and well-respected coaches in her profession.”
Scofield has used her dismissal to question the direction of women’s sports programs at Yale. Despite her accomplishments (before her removal Scofield said she was ranked second among team sports coaches at Yale in victories, 49th in the nation in winning percentage among women’s volleyball coaches and 15th in winning percentage among female coaches in women’s volleyball), the department decided a new coach was needed to make the program successful.
While the Bulldogs did struggle to break .500 in 2002 and finished below that clip in 2001, Scofield’s teams never won fewer than 10 games and in the 1990s they averaged just under 20 wins per season.
“If I pushed you hard to promote women’s sports and this is the result, it should open people to be more curious about how women’s sports are being put forward,” Scofield said. “I hope this shines light on women’s sports at Yale. Unfortunately, this has to be a negative spotlight on it.”
Scofield said she has consulted legal counsel since the athletics department transferred her to administrative duty.
“I’d been told throughout my career that [such success] is what we wanted the team pursuing, and I thought I was doing everything the university wanted and supported,” Scofield said. “Then the University told me it was going in a different direction. I seriously question that direction.”
Donofrio said he knew Scofield’s job was in jeopardy as soon as the administration brought in Chin as a consultant.
“I have managed many people and have lived through the dreaded ‘consultant’ coming to help out a company,” said Donofrio, who was in the healthcare and insurance industries prior to coming to Yale full-time. “The thing I can’t understand is how this alleged consultant was qualified to make any kind of judgment on Peg’s program. As far as I know [Chin] has never coached in Division I, or the Ivy League.”
Chin did not return multiple phone calls.
Despite Scofield and Donofrio’s disapproval of the decision, team members have a higher level of team spirit since Scofield left.
“There’s a renewed vitality among the girls,” Joey Lee ’03 said. “You can see in the sophomore and freshmen a new desire, a new love. They want to be in the gym. They’re much more excited about the prospects for what may be in store.”
Picinic said the team, which has been playing this spring season for current Wesleyan coach Gale Lackey and weight training with a new strength and conditioning coach, has a refreshed spirit. Because Wesleyan is a Division III school and has no spring volleyball season, Lackey is the acting coach for the spring.
The Bulldogs will hire a coach before the start of the fall season.
“They’re all so motivated, so anxious,” Picinic said. “It’s wonderful to see that change — that drive and passion for volleyball, to be back on the court. Honestly, it gives me the chills because it’s something I always aspired to have, so seeing them with it makes up for my lack of it over four years.”
This exuberance rings hollow to Donofrio.
“Nobody has fought harder and longer to develop this program and the young women who have been fortunate enough to be a part of it,” Donofrio said. “Over the last three seasons I have seen Peg kick, scratch, and fight to make this program successful. So the student-athletes who were recruited by Peg that went in to complain about her have no idea what she thought of Yale, Yale women’s volleyball and the empowerment of women. My guess is they should be thanking her for getting them into this great university.”
Yale has posted the job opening on the NCAA Web site, and Picinic said the department is seriously considering three candidates, who will be interviewed by players, other coaches and faculty members. Although the season begins in four months, Picinic said the quality of the coach is more important than the speed of the search committee’s decision.
Meanwhile, Scofield said she does not plan on looking for another coaching position elsewhere.
“The reason I stayed in coaching was I thought that Yale was one of the best places to promote women in athletics,” Scofield said. “It’s a way of putting a value on what you are paying for; there are certain sacrifices you have to make to do it all. I stayed in coaching to make an impact in the world of women’s sports — I’m not looking at staying in this profession.”
And Donofrio wondered if the decision might not come back to haunt the program in the end.
“I really have to wonder why when Peg and I were reassigned, the only reason we were given from the administration was they wanted to take the program in a different direction,” Donofrio said. “Overall, it has been a winning program. What different direction could the administration be talking about?”