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Brad Rock: U. needed better communication in swim scandal

Published: Tuesday, Sept. 1 2015 12:16 a.m. MDT

Dr. Chris Hill, University of Utah Athletic Director, isoverseeing the Utes' move to the Pac-12 in Salt Lake City  Thursday, April 21, 2011.  (Jeffrey D. Allred, Deseret News) Dr. Chris Hill, University of Utah Athletic Director, isoverseeing the Utes' move to the Pac-12 in Salt Lake City Thursday, April 21, 2011. (Jeffrey D. Allred, Deseret News)

SALT LAKE CITY — University of Utah athletics director Chris Hill says he wants to know the truth, the whole truth and nothing but the truth. An investigation is under way to discover whether former swim coach Greg Winslow abused student-athletes, and whether the school properly dealt with the issue. Hill says he wants to take care of the questions now. He also says he’s insisting on total transparency.

That apparently applies to his relationship with the investigators, who are independent of the university. But the media? Different story. Go ahead and ask him about the claims of abuse, drinking and racially insensitive remarks by Winslow. Quiz him about letters and visits from parents who were upset with the way Winslow handled the team. Grill him on how long this was going on.

You’ll get pretty much the same answer: He’ll have to get back to you.

It’s going to come out in the investigation.

This, of course, isn’t terribly convenient. These days, people want their answers fast and simple. Why go through the details of Obamacare when it’s easier to ask: Shouldn’t there be insurance for everyone? Same thing with automatic budget cuts. The public can only digest information in bite-size chunks.

So it was on Monday that Hill entertained interviews from various media outlets, wanting the CliffsNotes on the Utah swimming scandal. His answer: There’s an investigation proceeding. In time, the details will come out. How soon?

Nada on that, too. Hill says he doesn’t want to impose deadlines on an independent process.

“I want to make sure we know the count,” Hill said, when asked if he knew how many meetings, messages and phone calls with parents occurred. “I don’t know everything about who talked to whom in our department, and what got to me and what didn’t get to me.”

The story broke last month that Winslow was being investigated in connection with alleged sexual abuse of a 15-year-old girl when he coached a team in Arizona. Hill says he knew nothing of that until Arizona State University police recently contacted him. Also, the parents of some swimmers went to the media, saying Winslow intimidated and put their children at risk with punishment drills.

Hill doesn’t deny knowing something of the situation. He told the Deseret News he previously forwarded one parent complaint to President David Pershing. Also, the Office of Equal Opportunity in November investigated complaints of racial remarks by Winslow. Some parents believe Hill knew of ongoing issues for years, but didn’t act quickly enough.

If I were conducting the independent investigation, one of the first things I’d want to clear up about Winslow is the role of former assistant athletics director for internal operations Pete Oliszczak. He abruptly left the university and moved out of state last fall, so he missed out on the recent drama. But before that, he was charged with overseeing swimming. Which leaves me to wonder how much he knew and how much he told Hill.

It would be stretching things to connect the dots between the swimming scandal and Oliszczak’s resignation, but this much is certain: He knew something. Swimming was part of his job description. In that sense, he’s the key to all this. How well did he report things to Hill?

Incidentally, Oliszczak worked five years at the NCAA headquarters before taking the Utah job in 2004. That’s rich, even though he was an assistant director of championships. You would think if anyone knew about investigating and reporting, it would be him.

There are 17 varsity sports at Utah and obviously Hill couldn’t be everywhere. There are academic, life skills, student services, communications, fund raising and marketing areas, among others. All of them report to athletics. Asked if he knew beforehand of all the alleged incidents listed in the Yahoo! story on Friday, Hill replied, “No. No, there are things that I didn’t know.”

He should have.

Which tells us the only certain thing about all of this: A far better reporting system should have been in place.

Email: rock@desnews.com; Twitter: therockmonster; Facebook: rockmonsterunplugged

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