By Tim Eberly
The chancellor's office at Montana State University-Northern issued a statement today denying it was involved in plotting the Skylights' walkout.
On Wednesday, women's basketball coach Kevin Emerick accused Chancellor Alex Capdeville and athletic director Ted Spatkowski of orchestrating the boycott and assuring his players that they would not forfeit their scholarships if they refused to play for Emerick.
Capdeville's office vehemently denied that allegation. "Mr. Emerick's assertion that the administration instigated the players' boycott is totally false," the statement said. "The girls acted completely on their own and without any encouragement or prior knowledge from the administration."
Players have said they acted on their own. They said they spoke with Spatkowski on Sunday about the announcement they planned to make the following day not to play for Emerick or his assistant, Joan Steffen.
"The players and their parents talked with Capdeville and Spatkowski before they did this walkout," Emerick, 41, said Wednesday. "They got assurances that they weren't going to lose their scholarships."
Emerick also said MSU-N administrators orchestrated the players' action as a way to sidestep the Montana Supreme Court's recent decision to not get involved in MSU-N's legal efforts to remove Emerick from his job.
After returning from a two-game road trip Sunday morning, the nine members of the Skylights drafted and signed a "Skylight Position Statement," requesting the immediate removal of Emerick and Steffen. Players said that if he does not step down, they will not play for him and are willing to forfeit the remaining five games on their schedule.
When presented with the one-page letter Monday afternoon, Emerick refused to accept it, and the players went home without practicing.
Among other things, the letter cited verbal and psychological abuse as reasons for their decision. Players said the situation has worsened as Emerick has battled MSU-N's efforts to remove him.
A spokesman for the university, Chuck Jensen, the vice chancellor of student affairs, said the university is in the process of interviewing each member of the Skylights team.
Capdeville returned from a business trip to Washington, D.C., Wednesday, and Spatkowski is expected to return to campus this afternoon.
Lawyers for Montana State University on Wednesday announced their intent to file a second appeal to the Montana Supreme Court.
The Supreme Court rejected the university's request 4-3 early last week. LeRoy Schramm, the chief legal council for the MSU system, said the players' refusal to play for Emerick and Steffen did not impact the university's decision to appeal again.
On Wednesday afternoon, the Skylights' held their second straight practice without Emerick or Steffen. Emerick did not make an appearance, but Steffen stopped by briefly and had a trainer warn the players that former players could not practice with the team for liability insurance purposes.
One former player has been practicing with the team because they need an extra player to have two full five-person but Steffen stopped by briefly and had a trainer warn the players that former players could not practice with the team for liability insurance purposes.
One former player has been practicing with the team because they need an extra player to have two full five-person teams.
The conflict appears to have hit a stalemate, as neither side has budged. With two days before the Skylights' next game they play at the University of Great Falls on Saturday the players are still standing behind their decision.
"I don't think we're feeling any pressure," freshman forward Nichole Neill said today. "Either way it goes down, we're not going to play" for Emerick.
Emerick has said he has formed a team of different students who are ready to play for him Saturday.
Organized by students, a rally is being held at the gymnasium at 6 p.m. tonight in support of the Skylights players, who are planning to attend.
"I'm glad the community is behind us," Skylights co-captain Paula Owens said today.
Students strolling around the MSU-N campus today had mixed reactions about the controversy.
"If they don't want to play for him, they don't have to play for him," said John Boucher, a junior computer information systems major. "From the stuff I hear he says to them, I don't blame them. They shouldn't have to hear that from a coach, even if they are on a losing streak." Their record is 17-7 overall and 4-5 in conference play.
Said Alisha Morse, a junior elementary education major, "I think (the boycott) is kind of childish, because they're representing the school and not just themselves. I see their whole reason and stuff but I think it's gone a little too far."
Geoff Gamble, the president of Montana State University, received a formal request from Emerick's lawyers Tuesday for an administrative review of his suspension, which sparked the season-long controversy.
"I will work diligently on this process," said Gamble, who has 45 days to review the case. "I will ask from Mr. Emerick his story, and I'll ask the same thing from campus leadership and I'll decide if his appeal has any merit."
Emerick was hired by the university in August 2000, after a six-person committee headed by Spatkowski chose him over about 23 applicants after a 30-day search.
One member of the committee, Scott Young, checked all five of Emerick's references. "Everybody that we talked to said what a great coach he was, what a great administrator he was," said Young, whose daughter, Jennifer Wendland, played for the Skylights from 1998-2001 and for one season under Emerick before quitting. "But we don't know looking back what ties these people had to him."
In retrospect, Young would not have voted in favor of hiring Emerick. "Kevin Emerick is really good at selling himself to the public," he said. "He's very smooth, he's a very smooth-talking person. If I could do it again, I'd do it a lot different."
Replied Emerick: "The only thing I'll say is that Scott Young didn't have a problem with me until he came to me and asked me to give his daughter some more playing time."
After the 2000-01 season, Wendland asked the athletic department to be released from her scholarship.
Along with Young and Spatkowski, two former Skylight players, a member of MSU-N's Foundation and volleyball coach Lisa Handley comprised the committee.
"I would want to bring in more coaches to sit down and interview them," Young said. "I would eliminate phone interviews. I would want them to look me in the eye."
The commissioner of athletics in the Frontier Conference, Ron Kenison, said he is shocked by the recent events. "I think it's unprecedented in the Frontier Conference," said Kenison, the commissioner for six years. "We've never had anything like this in the Frontier Conference, and I'm not sure it's happened in the NAIA. I've seen people walk out of practice but they always return. This carries a different set of circumstances."
Capdeville suspended Emerick with pay Dec. 12 and informed him his contract, which expires June 18, would not be renewed. Capdeville said his action was based on the fact that Emerick was maintaining a personal relationship with Anna Fabatz, who is still an student at MSU-N.
Emerick has said Capdeville and Spatkowski gave him permission to see Fabatz socially after her final season ended.
In response, Emerick sued the university and a district judge reinstated him Jan. 3. After Emerick returned to his post, MSU lawyers asked the Montana Supreme Court to assume jurisdiction in the case and remove Emerick as coach, a request that was denied.