The Delta Sigma Pi bike team will be docked 15 seconds in this year’s Little 500 for a “breach of acceptable ethical behavior and sportsmanlike conduct,” according to an email sent to the team from Tara Vickers, the director of the IU Student Foundation.
In addition to DSP’s penalty, Alpha Xi Delta Coach Tom Schwoegler had his coaching credential taken away, effective immediately, for his involvement with DSP’s breach of acceptable ethical behavior.
Vickers declined comment over the phone to the Indiana Daily Student and said that both IUSF and Indiana University Foundation don’t comment on student grievances and disciplinary actions.
“This entire situation is simply breathtaking,” Schwoegler said. “I am profoundly and deeply troubled by the actions of IUF and IUSF.”
For two months, senior Laney Eldridge has been trying to switch teams to DSP.
Eldridge rode Little 500 for Chi Omega for her first three years. But on Jan. 11, Chi Omega was put on cease and desist and the next night informed that it could not finish recruitment.
Eldridge still wanted to ride in Little 500. However, she needed to file an appeal because it is a rule that any rider competing in Little 500 needs to have at least 12 credit hours. Eldridge doesn’t need that many credits in her last semester to graduate, so she was able to file the appeal by Feb. 11.
But the rider registration was due by Feb. 7 and as she was filling it out, she didn’t know who to put down for her team.
She put down one team which said she could ride with them, but when awaiting her appeals meeting on Feb. 14, she met the women from DSP and realized they would be a better fit for her.
Eldridge didn’t think there was any rule saying she couldn’t switch teams after registering, so with the support of the original team she put down and her appeal going through, she registered for the Spring Series under DSP.
DSP received an email stating that Eldridge is only eligible to ride for the original team she put down on her registration form.
Searching through the 2019 Little 500 Manual and finding no rule that clearly states no switching teams, Eldridge and fellow DSP riders sought out a meeting with Vickers and Little 500 Race Director Andrea Balzano.
In the meantime, she went to Dave Ferguson, an attorney at Ferguson Law, and explained her situation.
Ferguson sent an email to Stacy Knapper, General Counsel and Corporate Board Secretary of the IU Foundation, and wrote how he could not find any rule clearly stating that a rider couldn’t switch teams after registration.
Knapper replied in an email that when registration for the race closes, riders are not allowed to change teams.
“This has been a hard and fast rule for years,” Knapper wrote in the email. “It is not specifically called out in the handbook simply because it is a built in fact given the deadline for registration. There are several implied cross-references in the handbook that make it clear that this is the basic rule.”
Knapper declined comment to the IDS.
On Monday, March 18, the day Qualifications rosters were due, the women got their meeting. With the encouragement of Schwoegler, who has known Eldridge for four years, they decided to record the meeting without Balzano and Vickers being aware. Indiana has a one-party consent law for recording conversations, so the recording the women took of the meeting was obtained legally.
“We simply wanted a specific rule in there that stated no changing,” Eldridge said. “They keep saying it’s an implied rule. They talked to us like we were stupid.”
Eldridge said she specifically remembers something Vickers said to them about how in the grand scheme of things, this is just a little drop.
“They were basically saying they didn’t have time to do this,” Eldridge said.
Eldridge said she asked Balzano about a different rule that she implemented in last year’s manual, that stated no student shall be a member of Rider’s Council for more than two academic years when Balzano then accepted a student on to Rider’s Council for a third year.
Eldridge said Balzano’s counter was that the woman was already accepted and that the rule wasn’t made until afterward.
“So, I said, ‘Well then why don’t you let me ride and create an explicit rule next year, following this?’” Eldridge asked.
The meeting concluded without the resolution Eldridge and DSP had hoped.
Schwoegler said he sent the recording of the meeting to Curt Simic, president emeritus of the IU Foundation. Schwoegler wrote in an email, “It is a difficult recording to hear and I sought guidance to share it with you. I find no joy doing so, but I believe it is something that you would want to know. No reply needed or expected.”
Simic responded in an email, “Tom, I got your note and the thumb drive. I’ll turn it over to Tara and Sarah Beggs for their handling. I’m a bit troubled that this team recorded the conversation without letting Tara and Andrea know they were doing it. Seems highhanded to me regardless of the content. I go to the West Coast for the entire week so rather than hold it, I’m moving it along.”
As the email chain continued between the two, Simic called this situation a “teachable moment,” which Schwoegler took major offense to.
Simic declined comment to the IDS.
On March 28, Members of IUF and IUSF met with Eldridge and DSP’s Joelle Gross and Mary Jane Schulz. Eldridge said they informed them they would be receiving a penalty, which would either be a timed penalty or removal from the race, the following day before 6 p.m. for recording the meeting.
Eldridge said she, Gross and Schulz all felt intimidated during the meeting and were afraid to speak up for fear a worse penalty could be assessed.
DSP was informed via email the next day about its 15-second penalty for “breach of acceptable ethical behavior and sportsmanlike conduct.” In accordance with the Little 500 Manual, DSP must serve this penalty within the first 20 laps of the race.
The words “breach,” “ethical,” and “behavior” are not found in the 2019 Little 500 Manual.
In IU’s Code of Students Rights, Responsibilities, & Conduct, there was nothing found about recording conversations.
Shortly after DSP received its email, Schwoegler received an email about his coaching credential.
The email to Schwoegler said he was in “direct violation of your signed coaching waiver, the Coaches Code of Ethics, and the Little 500 Manual. In accordance with page 11 of the Little 500 Manual, ‘acting in any manner deemed inconsistent with the best interest of the IUSF and/or the Little 500’ may result in ‘cancellation of Coach Credential, removal of a coach from the premises, expulsion of the coach from all Little 500 activities […] at the discretion of the IUSF staff.’”
Schwoegler’s credential has been revoked for three years, and he isn’t eligible to get it renewed until after the 2021 race.
The same day, Alpha Xi Delta got an email informing them that Schwoegler will not be able to be in the pit for them on race day.
“I think the initial reaction we all had was one of utter disbelief,” Alpha Xi Delta sophomore Jess Hamilton said. “Disbelief that this one issue has somehow blown up and become so big that it is now affecting the rest of my biking career here at IU.”
Hamilton also said the team will have another coach in the pit for them on race day, but said it was hard to have its coach pulled 14 days before the green flag drops.
As for Eldridge, she did not get switched to DSP and will not be competing in the race.
“I just wanted to ride in the race,” Eldridge said.
Schwoegler said he thinks this situation was all mischaracterizations.
“These remarkable women have been portrayed in a manner that stands in stark contrast to who their friends, colleagues and fellow riders know them to be,” Schwoegler said. “Laney, MJ & Joelle, are dedicated, knowledgeable and passionate women and they love the Little 500. Their enthusiasm, dedication and passion for this bike race is nothing short of colossal. In this year of historically low participation, these are the very participants that IUSF should be embracing, even having them serve as ambassadors. Now that would be a teaching moment for IUSF.”
The original team Eldridge signed up for on her riders registration wished to not be named in this article.