Idaho Diving Coach Suspended Amid Sexual Misconduct Probe, Then Wins Award
By Brent Schrotenboer
May 25, 2018
The diving coach at the University of Idaho was suspended for a sexual misconduct allegation less than a week before being named co-diving coach of the year in the Western Athletic Conference, according to records reviewed by USA TODAY Sports.
Jim Southerland, who joined the Idaho staff in 2015, was issued an interim suspension in February by the U.S. Center for SafeSport and USA Diving, the sport’s national governing body. Six days later, the WAC honored his accomplishments, unaware of the case against him as misconduct allegations continue to rock Olympic sports and now have added to similar issues at Idaho, where the athletic director last month was placed on leave.
In this case, the allegation involves an improper sexual relationship between Southerland and a female diver who had been under his tutelage near Seattle prior to 2010. It since has led to him being placed on leave at Idaho in April, enraging a fellow diving coach who said Southerland has fallen victim to “political witch-hunting” after major sex abuse scandals in gymnastics and other sports.
More: U.S. Olympic leaders need to walk the talk after showing zero sense of urgency
“There comes a point where the law swings too far one way,” said Bob Ketrick, a longtime colleague of Southerland who recently bought Southerland's diving club business. “Before, there were no protections for kids. A lot of stuff was unreported. OK, so we made the system better, but (also created) … opportunity for people with vendettas to take advantage of a new system.”
Southerland was not charged with a crime, according to Sgt. Ryan Abbott of the sheriff’s department in King County, Wash. Abbott said the department looked into the allegation in 2015 and said it didn’t constitute a crime even if it were true. He noted the age of sexual consent in the state is 16.
Southerland’s ex-wife, Patti McEuen, is the one who made the complaint about his alleged relationship with the diver. She said the diver was between 17 and 20 at the time of the relationship, when Southerland was between 52 and 55. McEuen, who also is a diving coach in King County, said the ex-diver called her crying and seeking help about the situation in 2010, when she was 20. McEuen said Southerland “groomed” and had sex with the younger woman prior to that and later stalked her.
If true, that could violate SafeSport rules prohibiting sexual harassment and “intimate relationships involving a person in a position of power where a power imbalance exists.”
Interim suspensions are issued when deemed necessary, according to SafeSport, such as when reasonable cause is found in the case, and to protect the reporting party or the sport.
Southerland, who didn’t return messages seeking comment, can contest the allegation before a final determination is made. Ketrick said Southerland was cleared by law enforcement and said McEuen is “out of control.” The younger woman could not be reached.
“It became my word against his word because the girl wouldn’t testify,” McEuen told USA TODAY Sports. “I said, 'But that (conduct) is still wrong.’”
McEuen acknowledges the alleged relationship led to her divorce from Southerland in 2014. She said she has “persevered’ with her complaint after taking it to USA Diving.
“USA Diving didn’t take the investigation seriously until SafeSport really got involved,” McEuen told USA TODAY Sports. “Once SafeSport got involved, obviously they took it very seriously.”
The U.S. Center for SafeSport opened last year to investigate sexual misconduct allegations and to help protect athletes from abuse and misconduct. The center has jurisdiction over national governing bodies in Olympic sports but does not have jurisdiction over NCAA-member institutions – meaning its suspension isn’t enforceable on him at Idaho or the WAC.
A spokesman for Idaho athletics said Idaho still placed him leave April 13, two days after Southerland and USA Diving notified the university about it. The suspension decision involving SafeSport and USA Diving came Feb. 18. On Feb. 24, the Twitter account for the Idaho swim and dive team congratulated him for his coaching honor that day from the WAC.
“We cannot comment further nor speculate on personnel matters,” said the Idaho spokesman, Mike Walsh.
The news came as Idaho found itself enmeshed in another matter related to sexual misconduct allegations. On April 3, the school said it placed athletic director Rob Spear on administrative leave for 60 days as it looked into “process failures” involving the reporting of sexual assault and harassment complaints in 2012 and 2013.
Those complaints were made by a former Idaho diver and distance runner against a football player, but there’s no evident connection between those cases and this one.