Director of Athletics Allen Ward answered questions via email for The Murray State News‘ article, “Switching track.” His Q & A with The News is provided below.
KR: I have spoken to former track and field athlete Kiara Austin about when she initially decided she wanted to walk at her May 2016 graduation rather than compete in the OVC Championships. She has given me her timeline of events, and I was hoping you could give me the athletic timeline of events. Austin said when she met with Coach Swieton, both the assistants and the cross-country assistant on Oct. 27, there was not an NCAA representative nor anyone else from athletic’s present. Why was that? AW: I’m not sure what you mean by an NCAA representative. It would be unusual for someone from the NCAA to be included in a meeting such as this. As you can imagine, meetings between a Head Coach and student-athlete occur all the time. As with all matters such as this, the sport supervisor and AD were involved. I was out of town, but kept fully informed as to the discussion and alternatives being suggested.
KR: Should there have been someone present?
AW: If Kiara had requested someone else be present, that would have occurred. It wouldn’t have been an individual from the NCAA (see answer above), but likely one of my senior administrators since I was out of town. To my knowledge, this request wasn’t made.
KR: What contact did Coach Swieton have with you prior to the decision to dissolve her scholarship and position on the team?
AW:It’s important to be clear here, Athletics did not decide to dissolve her scholarship or remove her from the team. The dissociation that occurred was completely voluntary on the part of Kiara after we researched and presented a number of attractive alternatives for her to consider. We made every effort to accommodate Kiara’s desire to participate in a commencement ceremony while at the same time allowing her to fulfill her obligations to the team and track program for the aid she receives. After she was presented with several options, she returned a day or so later communicating her lack of desire to compete any further. She thanked my staff for making every attempt to accommodate her wishes.
KR: She said she asked about competing in the indoor championship and not the outdoor championship and said she was told athletics did not care about the indoor championship results – just outdoor. Is this true? Would that have been an option for her?
AW: I am not privy to that discussion. But I do know that Coach Swieton would not have slighted the indoor season. If Kiara didn’t have the desire to compete any further like she openly shared with us, I’m guessing that would include the indoor season as well.
KR: Are you satisfied with the way this played out?
AW:I regret that a number of our spring sports sometimes have a conflict with commencement. But I am very pleased with the effort we made, and the willingness of many parties involved, to provide attractive alternatives that would have allowed Kiara to experience commencement and also fulfill her obligations as a student-athlete receiving aid. Our efforts clearly demonstrated our commitment to both the student and the athlete. We provide our student-athletes with substantial resources and academic support during their time at Murray State to ensure they receive their degree. That’s why I’m so proud the graduation rates for our student-athletes far outpace the general student body.
KR: How would you have liked to have seen this handled differently?
AW: Honestly, nothing different. I believe we made every effort to allow Kiara the opportunity to not only meet her obligations to the track program, but also enjoy a commencement ceremony. We came up with a solution that was a win-win in my opinion.
KR: From the athletic department’s standpoint what do you think can be done to avoid student-athletes from having to make such choices?
AW: There likely will always be conflicts with the commencement ceremony, but that is not a reflection of our commitment to academics. That is a choice a student-athlete knowingly makes because they are dedicated to their sport as well. As much as I regret that a few of our student-athletes can not experience commencement, I realize that the aid and academic support we’ve provided over the years has allowed them to earn their degree. The conference makes every attempt to limit conflicts, but with 12 member institutions, different commencement dates, and the NCAA championships calendar, it is likely there will always be overlap. I’m glad we have uncovered suitable alternatives student-athletes can now consider.
KR: I would still like to sit down with you and Coach Swieton if possible.
AW: Unfortunately, neither of us are available to meet with you prior to your deadline.