The swim & dive program at Arizona State University finds itself between the proverbial rock and a hard spot.
Reports of an ugly incident from seven years ago involving the program’s head coach, Bob Bowman, have surfaced — and the public is watching to see how the administration deals with it.
According to reports by various major media, Bowman and a friend identified as national team coach Sean Hutchison sent some inappropriate sex-related texts to a 24-year-old female Olympic swimmer back in 2011. The victim, Caroline Burckle, who had retired from the sport at the time, has confirmed the reports and also said Bowman apologized for the incident.
The long-since-forgotten story was unearthed in an article published last week in the Orange County Register.
So ASU Vice President of Athletics Ray Anderson is faced with meting out punishment that could include firing the coach.
On the surface, the incident doesn’t appear to merit the loss of a job. The sexting involved one evening of what Bowman calls the “exercise of poor judgement.” It happened seven years ago, long before Bowman accepted the ASU job in April of 2015. And Bowman made an apology to Burckle at the time of the incident, in front of a witness.
But despite those considerations, Anderson’s back is up against the wall, thanks to a statement made by his boss several months ago.
In an interview for an Arizona Republic article in March, University President Michael Crow said the school adheres to a ‘zero tolerance’ policy and would fire anyone in the athletic department found guilty of inappropriate behavior. “You can’t always prevent something from happening, but you can take immediate action the second you hear about it,” he said at the time.
We’ll have to see how long that ‘immediate action’ takes.
Bowman is arguably the most recognized name among college swim coaches, due in part to the years he spent working with Olympian Michael Phelps, who won 28 Olympic medals and is one of the most famous swimmers of all-time. Bowman has coached Phelps since the swimmer was 11 years old, so when Bowman left Maryland, where he was the CEO of the Baltimore Aquatic Club, to take the ASU job, Phelps followed him to Arizona.
The 54-year-old Bowman was hired to replace Dorsey Tierney-Walker, who spend six years running the Sun Devil program but was unable to match the success she enjoyed at Indiana University, where she led teams to two SEC Conference championships and a couple of national titles.
The American Swimmers Coaching Association (ASCA) Hall of Fame coach is a five-time recipient of the organization’s national Coach of the Year award and six times was voted the USA Swimming Coach of the Year.
Three years ago, when Anderson introduced Bowman as the Sun Devils’ new coach, he called Bowman an “icon” and one of the most respected coaches in the sport.
Now we’re going to find out if he stands behind his hire. Or if the words of his boss will overrule any other decision he could make.
(Photo: ASU Athletics)