Dave Amato, head coach of Brown’s wrestling team, came under fire beginning last week from current and former members of the fraternity Delta Tau for what they consider intimidation and an ultimatum to first-year wrestlers: either join a fraternity or wrestle for Brown – not both.
Members of DTau, which has traditionally been considered a wrestling fraternity, say Amato’s actions have hurt DTau’s recruiting efforts for the past three years, but Amato, who has coached the wrestling team for 22 years, says he has the best interest of his team in mind.
Three administrators, including Interim Dean for Campus Life Margaret Klawunn, are scheduled to meet with the president of DTau and Greek Council Chair Chris Guhin ’05 on Friday to discuss a solution to the situation, according to Guhin.
Several alums, including Al Romano ’73, director of the Delt Foundation, a 200-member alumni support group for DTau, have contacted University officials to express their anger. Romano and other alums are requesting that Amato be disciplined and that the pledge process be extended for affected wrestlers. Romano, a Providence attorney, sent an e-mail Thursday to Interim Athletic Director Joan Taylor and other officials in athletics and physical education threatening the University and Amato with legal action if the situation is not resolved.
“I believe he’s violating the rights of both the students and the social group. … If it’s up to me, I want the coach’s head on a plate,” Romano told The Herald.
A meeting between Romano, other members of the Delt Foundation, Associate Athletic Director Tom Bold and Amato is in the works, but has not been scheduled. Amato and Bold left Tuesday for the NCAA Wrestling Championships and will not return until Friday.
The direct conflict between Amato and DTau goes back to at least 2003, but the situation came to a head last week because of DTau’s dwindling numbers, according to DTau President Chris DeCarolis ’06. March 8 was the deadline for students to turn in bids and signed housing contracts to the Office of Residential Life, and DTau, which has 13 active members, needed eight pledges to retain its on-campus housing status, DeCarolis said.
Eight students handed in bids for DTau, including one wrestler, but after discussions with Amato the wrestler decided not to pledge, though he has not yet withdrawn his bid. DeCarolis said that though DTau still has eight pledges in the eyes of the University, “we’re not sure where we stand” in terms of on-campus housing.
“It’s past the point where we want a slap on the wrist. It’s past the point where our numbers are down. We’re on the verge of being kicked off campus and Delta Tau will be over, done with,” DeCarolis said.
In 2003, Amato laid down a clear ultimatum to wrestlers, telling them that they would have to choose between pledging the fraternity and being on the team. At that time, DTau alums intervened. Based on subsequent correspondence with Amato, alums thought the situation was resolved, Romano said.
But last year, according to DeCarolis, Amato dissuaded two wrestlers from pledging DTau, though he did not give a strict ultimatum.
DeCarolis and other DTau brothers questioned what right Amato has to influence housing decisions. “It’s bigger than Delta Tau and the wrestling coach,” DeCarolis said. “It’s about your individual freedom as a student and student-athlete being imposed upon. Who is the wrestling coach to tell a member of his team where he can and can’t live next year?”
“This year we heard rumors that some of the freshmen were going to pledge,” Amato told The Herald Sunday. “I told them why I didn’t think it was a good idea.” Amato said that he or his assistant talked on the phone or in passing to six first-years who were considering pledging, but he did not think they felt intimidated.
“We have the best interest of our student-athletes in mind here,” he said.
Amato said he told the first-year wrestlers, “If you’re going to be on the wrestling team, there’s going to be a lot of time commitment.”
“We thought they’d be better off if they did things like community service,” he said. Amato said he also told them about DTau’s poor reputation and said that there have been problems when the team became associated with the bad behavior of the fraternity.
“Delt used to be a great place, but the last few years we were getting in trouble, we were getting lumped together,” Amato said. In recent years, he said, there were so many brawls and other disciplinary problems related to DTau, which were “lumped” with the team that “at least once a month – and I’m not exaggerating – I was getting called into the athletic director’s office.”
“It got to the point where, in my evaluation, it said we needed more team discipline,” Amato said.
The University revoked DTau’s on-campus housing privileges in 1997 for “unreasonably disruptive” behavior over a five-year period, The Herald reported in 1998. The fraternity returned to campus in Fall 2002.
Amato defended his actions as being in the best interest of his wrestlers and the team. He said his problems with DTau peaked last March when he was called to give under-oath testimony to the police regarding a September 2003 assault. In the incident, a male punched a Brown student, then a junior, in the face and yelled a homophobic comment at her. Amato said the incident occurred following a party thrown by ex-Delts and ex-wrestlers and the police thought someone on the wrestling team would know the identity of the assailant. He said he had to assure police that no one on the team knew who had committed the assault.
“If I didn’t get that phone call last March being dragged down to the police station, then maybe I wouldn’t be feeling the way I am now,” he said.
Amato also said that, though he made no promises, he told the first-years who were considering joining a fraternity that he would help them with housing if he could.
“One of the reasons they were even considering pledging Delta Tau was so they would have good rooms and could live together … so we told them, ‘Go through the lottery, do the best you can and things have a way of working out,’ ” he said. “We’d write a letter or do whatever we could to help,” he added.
In the case of the first-year who had handed in his bid last week to become DTau’s eighth pledge, Amato said “he came over to us and told us he had” handed in his bid. Then, he said, “We just told him why we didn’t think it was a good idea … and I think he had some trouble with it. … I think he struggled with it a little bit.” The student, who declined to comment, ultimately decided not to pledge.
In a similar case, wrestler Ben Cannon ’08 turned in his bid for Sigma Chi by the deadline but decided to de-pledge Friday. According to Amato, “We told him that we were dissuading the other kids from pledging Delt and we thought it would be unfair for him to be in Sigma Chi.” Asked whether he thought he had exerted undue influence on Cannon, Amato replied, “I think I probably did – yeah, I probably did.”
Cannon told The Herald that he had talked to Amato seven or eight times about the issue and “at first I didn’t see where he was coming from.”
“As we talked about it more and more,” Cannon said, he started to see Amato’s point of view.
Cannon said Amato gave him an “ultimatum” by telling him “I needed to either join a fraternity or be on the wrestling team.”
“I wish it could’ve worked out where I could have done both, but I definitely see where he was coming from,” Cannon said. “The whole coaching staff felt the same way because I guess they have had some pretty thick problems in the past.”
Of four other first-year wrestlers who were considering joining DTau, each had a different view of Amato’s influence. One would not comment. Another, who asked his name not be used, told The Herald in an e-mail his “decision was not at all altered by my coach.”
A third freshman wrestler, who also wished not to be named, wrote in an e-mail that “Coach Amato never gave me a ultimatum of joining the fraternity or wrestling like some of the rumors going around. He called me the night before we had to turn in our bids and told us his reasons why he didn’t want us to join the fraternity.”
Ross Johnson ’08, who was considering joining DTau, wrote in an e-mail, “We were strongly encouraged to choose not to pledge DTau by the entire coaching staff. I am well aware that this policy has been in place for a number of years, and it has undoubtedly hurt the fraternity. I don’t think it is such a huge deal as everyone is making it out to be, it’s just that Amato and the Delt guys don’t see eye-to-eye; they both have their reasons.”
Amato said that until the late 1990s, “I actually thought … in some ways (DTau) almost helped the wrestling team because they were all in it together,” but “it got to the point where the majority of kids that were in Delt didn’t wrestle anymore, which had a bad effect.”
“I didn’t sense those teams were as tight as the teams beforehand or the teams” now, he said.
Amato said he is willing to meet with alums who have concerns, but “it doesn’t mean I’m going to change my mind or my beliefs.” Amato added, “If it’s against University policy then my supervisor would come down and tell me what I had to do right.”
Amato’s actions do not appear to be in violation of any specific clause of University policy. University officials declined numerous requests for comment. Guhin, chair of Greek Council, said, “It’s definitely significant that everyone I’ve talked to thinks it’s (a violation).” Guhin said he hopes the result of Friday’s meeting will be that Amato will “be instructed to tell the team that they can join any house they want to join.”
“If I can minimize the amount of confrontation in all this I’ll be very happy,” Guhin said.
Several alums who have contacted University officials about the situation told The Herald they are furious with Amato and his actions. David Solomon ’01, a former president of DTau, was on the wrestling team for two years but quit because he was “utterly disgusted with the coaching staff.” Solomon said that in his years at the University, Amato “consistently referred to Delta Tau as a cancer and discouraged kids outright from pledging.”
Of the current situation, Solomon said, “It’s like telling a wrestler they can’t belong to the LGBTA or Harambee House. Our problem with this is that it’s totally discriminatory on its face.”
John Land ’79, alumni president of the fraternity Delta Phi and an alumni advisor to the Greek system, said, “It’s a broader issue than Amato and DTau. If anyone in a supervisory position at the University is allowed to dictate academic or residential policy to (students), that opens up a door that no one wants to go through.” However, Land said he was hopeful that the situation could be resolved.
“If (Amato is) as good a guy as I’ve heard, we should be able to sit down and work this thing out. … We care about the Greek system as much as Coach Amato cares about his team. … I’m not sure he understands, based on his behavior, how important the system is to us,” Land said.
Robert Hill ’88, who is co-president of Friends of Brown Wrestling, an alumni organization, said he talked to Amato Friday and told him he did not think there should be ultimatums on the team. “If the coach has concerns, they ought to be at least listened to,” Hill said. He said he hoped that all the parties involved would sit down and talk.
“It seems that everyone would be willing to talk, but no one has set up a meeting,” he said.