MOSCOW, Idaho – Uncertainty over the future of University of Idaho athletics remains ongoing after the college announced Thursday that it was indefinitely extending the administrative leave of athletics director Rob Spear.
UI President Chuck Staben put Spear on a 60-day leave April 3 in the wake of complaints from two former women athletes roiled the campus this spring. The women said Spear and athletics officials did not adequately address their complaints they were harassed – and in one instance inappropriately touched – by a former Vandals football player in 2012 and 2013.
Staben said the university would intensively review its response to such complaints while Spear was out. Two consultants were hired and an internal university committee was appointed to conduct the study.
The work is not complete and Spear’s leave has been extended until “the report has been reviewed and a decision is made on Spear’s employment status,” according to a UI release.
In the years since the allegations that triggered Spear’s leave and the subsequent review of UI policy, Spear brought to the athletics department Green Dot training designed to make athletes, coaches and department employees aware of their responsibility to intervene and their means to do so when they see harassment. He also set in motion a series of seminars on appropriate behavior toward women by men.
UI spokeswoman Jodi Walker could not say whether Spear’s future would be decided solely on the events of 2012-2013 or on the totality of his efforts to confront sexual harassment.
“I don’t know what the review will show,” she said.
Since Staben relieved Spear of his administrative duties, he learned he’s a lame duck.
The Idaho State Board of Education, which functions as the UI Board of Regents, announced this month it will not renew Staben’s contract after the 2018-2019 school year.
In Spear’s absence, the UI athletics department is being overseen on an interim basis by Pete Isakson, associate athletic director for revenue generation. As an interim director, and with a lame-duck president, Isakson is confronted with several issues that could fundamentally affect Vandals athletics.
UI has not completed fund raising for a new basketball arena. A $10 million gift for the project from Idaho Central Credit Union – the largest single donation in UI’s history – is contingent upon the remaining money being raised.
Idaho this fall will return to the Football Championship Subdivision and the Big Sky Conference after two decades of playing as a Football Bowl Subdivision program. Staben decided to return football to FCS in 2016 after the Sun Belt Conference declined to renew the Vandals’ membership after the 2017 season.
The move has been wildly unpopular among some Vandals boosters. Spear last year acknowledged it has resulted in a loss of about $200,000 in contributed funds to athletics that the UI has yet to make up.
In addition, a persistent shortfall in athletics funding of about $1 million threatens several programs. Staben this spring said the university would have to eliminate swimming, soccer and men’s golf unless it can employ an innovative revenue measure.
UI officials hope to add several sports but not support them with athletics scholarships. Instead, tuition and fees paid by participants would be able to be counted as athletics revenue. The regents in April gave the UI a year to make significant progress on the plan.
But Staben will be gone after this year, and Spear, a key architect of the new revenue measure, remains on indefinite leave. In the meantime, Vandals soccer coach Derek Pittman has moved on to the University of Texas San Antonio. Pittman said uncertainty over the future of UI soccer contributed to his decision to leave Idaho.
Isakson deferred comment to UI spokeswoman Walker. She addressed the ongoing unsettled situation in athletics.
“Everyone is continuing to do their job to the best of their ability,” she said.
She added getting a resolution to the sexual harassment issues trumps the need to return stable leadership to the department.
“What is more important is having a clear understanding of what happened and how we handle sexual harassment and provide a safe environment for students,” she said.
“It is never easy to examine one’s own actions critically,” Staben said. “We know we have made improvements in how we approach sexual assault allegations, but we need to know that we are doing all we can to keep our students safe. That is our No. 1 priority.”