Nearly All Women’s Basketball Players Quit, Eight New Players Recruited Following College’s Inaction Towards Head Coach Signor-Brown

In December 2020, following an extensive three-part investigation from The Phoenix about allegations from numerous players of intense favoritism, toxic team culture, and bullying towards women’s basketball players on behalf of Coach Candice Signor-Brown, members of the Swarthmore women’s basketball team created a Change.org petition calling for her removal. As of May 4, 2021, 3,204 people have signed it, or roughly twice Swarthmore’s student population. The college, however, has decided to move forward with Signor-Brown as coach leading to multiple members quitting and an abnormally large number of recruits.

When players spoke to The Phoenix last semester and shared the petition, they had hoped that the college would listen to their concerns and remove Signor-Brown from her coaching position. In December, a player named “Audrey” expressed to The Phoenix that she thought that keeping Signor-Brown as a coach could mean the end of the Swarthmore women’s basketball team.

“By the school making this decision [to allow Signor-Brown to keep coaching], it showed to me that … they [don’t] care about women’s basketball,” she said. “They are willing to throw away the women’s basketball team, possibly forever, because they just didn’t want to fire this coach for who-knows-what reason.”

Five months later, Signor-Brown has maintained her position as the head coach. Many players, including a former women’s basketball player named “Tess,” have expressed frustration over the college’s lack of action

“I thought that the administration was going to receive pressure from students, faculty, alumni, and higher ups like the Board of Managers that would say, ‘Hey listen, this doesn’t look good, especially after we got rid of the frats to be in the media, with another sexual assault,’” said Tess. “I thought it was gonna make some sliver of difference.”

Because only one player who has played under Signor-Brown is returning to the team due to the college’s refusal to fire Signor-Brown, Swarthmore Athletics recruited eight players in the class of 2025 to join the team next semester. This is an abnormally large recruiting class; for reference, for the 2017-2018, 2018-2019, and 2019-2020 academic years, only three incoming first years joined the team each year, respectively.

The Phoenix obtained the summary and conclusion of the college’s investigation. The document was originally sent via email from Provost Sarah Willie-LeBreton to women’s basketball players, Acting Director of Athletics Karen Borbee, and Assistant Coaches Brian Closkey and Brianna Spector on October 17, 2020. In the conclusion of the report, Willie-LeBreton wrote that she tasked Borbee with further handling the situation and that the Provost’s Office was done investigating. The report also lifted the previous ban on communication between the players and Signor-Brown.

Willie-LeBreton wrote, “With the delivery of this report, the no communication ban between Coach Brown and the players has been lifted. I have charged Acting Director of Athletics Borbee to follow up with Coach Brown and the players to develop a plan to begin the intentional process of healing and team-building.”

The players were told to keep the report confidential, including from their parents. According to Tess, Willie-LeBreton told players that the college would take legal action if they broke confidentiality about the report. Tess also shared that when one of the player’s parents emailed Willie-LeBreton about the report, the Provost told the players that she would not tolerate similar breaches of confidentiality with parents and external sources in the future.

The Phoenix has confirmed with three former players that as a result of inaction on behalf of the administration, all but one player on the 2019-2020 women’s basketball team quit. (The current first years on the team have not played under Signor-Brown due to the investigation and COVID-19.) Another former women’s basketball player, “Meg,” said that many players felt no choice but to quit the team.

“We had a meeting [with] the interim athletic director [in which] … we all complained to her [again], and she said, ‘Okay, well, we’re done with the complaining. It’s time, we need to move forward.’ So basically, you move forward with us or you go,” Meg said in an interview with The Phoenix.

Other players also echo this sentiment saying that quitting was a very hard and emotional decision. 

“I  really love the sport of basketball and … I would never want to play for Coach Brown again but, it just really, really pains me knowing that I’m having to give this up,” said “Beatrice,” another former player.

The former players are troubled by the large recruiting class, which is the result of Signor-Brown continuing to recruit in the Fall 2020 semester in person, despite the no-communication order from the Title IX Office and COVID safety restrictions against in-person recruiting. According to the Provost’s Office’s October report, the Provost was aware of the in-person recruiting, which it referred to, alongside Signor-Brown’s ongoing contact with players during the communication ban, as a “serious error in judgement.” While the report called on Signor-Brown to “comply with directives of this nature,” there do not seem to have been other consequences.

Several former players believe that the large recruitment class is an effort to ensure that most players quitting does not mean an end to Swarthmore women’s basketball.

“[It’s] a very large swath of recruits. I heard that there were eight incoming freshmen, because obviously they need a team,” said Meg. “When I heard there were eight new recruits coming in, I was really annoyed [because] they clearly intentionally decided to let eight other girls play under this coach. This was a very intentional move.”

Several of the incoming recruits applied to Swarthmore as early decision applicants, a binding application process that means students who apply must attend Swarthmore if admitted. The Phoenix’s investigative series was published on November 20, 2020, five days after Swarthmore ED1 deadline on Nov. 15. Tess expressed concern about incoming recruits who applied ED1 not knowing about the extensive allegations against Signor-Brown, as well as about contact they may currently have with the coach.

“They’d still be in contact with the coach so I have no idea what she’s telling them,” said Tess.

Tess added that before they quit, the team did not receive the new recruits’ contact information and had no way to inform them of the allegations against Signor-Brown, which she described as abnormal. Teams normally hold welcoming events for recruits as early as two years out and are able to text, call, and visit with potential recruits.

“It is not normal and it is so unusual how they did it, because they knew that if we talked to the players, they wouldn’t come,” said Tess. “We did not get to talk [to the recruits]. Only two seniors were allowed to talk [to them] and they were already graduating, so this issue [the possibility of continuing to play under Signor-Brown] didn’t affect them. They did not let [the people on the team, who would not tolerate playing under Signor-Brown again] have any information or any contact with these prospective students, which I think is very unfair.”

According to multiple former players, currently a reintegration process is ongoing between the remaining players with a psychologist not affiliated with the college leading conversations. Multiple former players also reported that another coach was hired and Signor-Brown is not allowed to be around the players without this person’s presence. (The Phoenix has not been able to confirm the additional coach’s title.) Beatrice also thought many recruits might not know what to do or how to handle the situation, as administration continues to tell students that the situation has been dealt with. 

“If I were coming into the situation, it would be very difficult thing, do I choose my passion, or do I suck it up … incoming freshmen are … probably being sold on idea that this is being dealt with and [Signor-Brown’s] going to have a supervisor who’s basically like a babysitter coach, making sure that she’s behaving … but it’s just a very difficult position for them,” said Beatrice. 

In an email to The Phoenix, Borbee declined to comment on the inclusion of a psychologist and an additional coach to monitor practices.

“Personnel decisions are private and are not for public discussion,” she wrote. “So while I am unable to comment on the specific situation of any team or coach, both the Provost and I have confidence in our head coaches and their ability to learn and grow, just as we have confidence in the ability of our student-athletes to learn and grow.”

Most former women’s basketball players are unsure what their next steps are after leaving the team. While The Phoenix can confirm a formal complaint has been filed with the NCAA about Signor-Brown’s behavior, players are unsure if anything will meaningfully change. 

“You gotta jump through a thousand hoops just to get your voice heard, it doesn’t matter if they actually believe you or not,” said Tess.

Beatrice agreed, adding that this experience has eroded her faith in the ability of institutions to support and protect student athletes. 

“I don’t really have a lot of faith in the system set up to prevent things like this because they just keep letting us down,” said Beatrice.

Trina Paul contributed reporting.

Photo courtesy of Swarthmore College Athletics.

CORRECTIONS:

05/09/21, 10 p.m.: This article has been amended to clarify details of the in-person recruiting.

25 thoughts on “Nearly All Women’s Basketball Players Quit, Eight New Players Recruited Following College’s Inaction Towards Head Coach Signor-Brown

  • May 10, 2021 at 6:42 pm
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    Well it is about time a college grew a pair.

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    • May 10, 2021 at 7:49 pm
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      Agreed. Love to know what she is accused of. Student/athletes today don’t like something and they think they can bitch about it and get what they want. Maybe the pendulum is switching

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      • May 11, 2021 at 1:27 am
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        Switching??? The pendulum is “switching?”

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      • May 11, 2021 at 1:59 am
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        As linked in the article and covered in multiple previous articles, she’s accused of sexual assault, harassment, forcing students to play on injuries to a life threatening point, and more. To say that this is just students “bitching” is offensive and ignorant. I hope you’re never in the position where your physical safety is at stake and the people suppose to protect you ignore you.

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        • May 11, 2021 at 2:16 am
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          Anyone can accuse anyone of anything they want to. A whole team quitting doesn’t mean she’s guilty. They probably thought if they all quit they would get her fired. Not saying the accusations are true or not just saying normal society is fed up with whining, threatening to quit to get their way behavior. Division III schools can’t offer scholarships so the person saying they gave up scholarships is wrong.

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        • May 11, 2021 at 4:21 am
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          I agree
          💯👍🏾👊🏾💪🏽

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        • May 11, 2021 at 10:44 am
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          They need to get rid of her. Worked with her for a few years and all these allegations are true. That’s why she left the last institution and the administration in that department was compliant with her behavior. These departments must be ran by morons.

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    • May 10, 2021 at 10:30 pm
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      When you have players that dont want to work this is what happens. The new 8 players know what is going on and why would anyone from the old vroup of soft complainers speak to the new hard working fresh kids coming in. Move on you didnt want to play for the coach. If the school would have fired her no coach would have been safe there

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      • May 11, 2021 at 6:57 am
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        All these lame ass comments from people who have never been involved in athletics in their pathetic lives. As someone in a position of power, you are supposed to do the right thing. Not use said power to sexually and emotionally harass your charges. Pathetic decision by the school, and pathetic support of a pathetic institution by pathetic “fans” who can’t jog a quarter of a mile to save their kids life. The coach is lucky. Abuse my daughter and she’d make her swallow her teeth.

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  • May 10, 2021 at 8:45 pm
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    Cant even pretend to be shocked that the college has failed students again

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  • May 11, 2021 at 12:13 am
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    For virtually an entire team to walk away from scholarships and a game they love speaks volumes. I had a varsity coach that I didn’t respect for various reasons, and when he pinned me against a locker room wall with his hand on my throat, I left my uniform in the locker room and walked. He is considered by most to be the greatest high school coach in Canadian sports history. Bobby Knight was considered a great coach too, but his behavior on the sidelines and in practice was unacceptable. My coach almost killed my love for the game, but I got out just in time. Hopefully, these young women will play somewhere else.

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  • May 11, 2021 at 1:11 am
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    I am curious about whether the “investigation” was internal or external. It’s imperative that external investigations take place whenever there are allegations of abuse both in school and in the workplace.

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  • May 11, 2021 at 1:48 am
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    Did the coach break the players down physically or emotionally or did tge coach make demands that the players were not used to? Unless they physically or emotionally misstreated the players need to get on the coach’s page. Players want to PLAY they don’t understand work, that’s boring and hard. They problem is in a competitive environment the measure of a players worth is production and a lot of players do not understand that. They are used to their club organizations letting them express their creativity by playing. Well the coach has to produce that means expediting skill development at a pace that the players are not willing to match. Some players are not willing to make such sacrifices.

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    • May 11, 2021 at 7:47 pm
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      The allegations involve players being put under intense physical and mental duress. The coach was accused by several players of making them play to the point where their bodies could not keep up, causing severe injury at times. One former player has alleged sexual assault and harassment. Other players have made allegations of her exercising an unusual amount of control over their academics, free time, and personal lives, far beyond what’s normal for D3 athletics. You can read more in depth at the three stories linked at the top of the article.

      Reply
    • May 12, 2021 at 12:04 am
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      Wins = money from grants… sometimes money talks and speaks volumes over victims

      Reply
  • May 11, 2021 at 6:34 am
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    Makes for a difficult article when noone can say anything. It is just a series of quotes by the former players that they were unhappy. Hard to believe that the school would keep a coach if the charges were true, especially at Swarthmore.

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  • May 11, 2021 at 4:43 pm
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    Some of these comments are so upsetting to read. Reading the other well reported articles in The Swarthmore Phoenix investigative series will answer all of your questions! If you’re not willing to read them, then you don’t know enough to judge this situation. Swarthmore has failed these young women, and to think otherwise is to fail them as well. When there is an abuser in a position of power, VERY OFTEN they are not held accountable (think Cosby, Weinsten, Nassar). That is how abuse of power works! It’s a viscious cycle. And to turn a blind eye, minimize the harm perpetrated, and dismiss the experience of survivors is take part in that cycle. Have some empathy, and please do some research and reflect and think before you publically reveal that you endorse abuse. If you are not against it, you are enabling it. I can only imagine what it would be like to experience sexual, emotional, and psychological abuse and then have witnesses say things like “quit complaining” or “really? I think they would fire the coach if that were true.”

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    • May 11, 2021 at 4:45 pm
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      lol *vicious cycle, not viscous

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  • May 11, 2021 at 11:11 pm
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    #signorbrowngetoutoftown

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  • May 12, 2021 at 11:03 am
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    I am sympathetic toward the plight of the players but the administration is not in an easy position here. You can’t just fire people without formal processes and cause.

    The Title IX investigation seems to have produced very little beyond the existence of the Instagram post. I am not saying that “Eve” is not trustworthy but you will never have cause for action based on no more than a social media post from 12 years ago.

    Most of the other allegations don’t really rise to the level of actionable misconduct and are mainly alleged by students from Vassar, not from Swarthmore.

    I personally wouldn’t want to play for her given all these stories. But that doesn’t mean Swarthmore has cause to fire her.

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  • May 12, 2021 at 3:53 pm
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    #signorbrowngetoutoftown

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  • May 13, 2021 at 12:41 am
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    #signorbrowngetoutoftown

    Reply

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