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The Student News Site of Quinnipiac University

The Quinnipiac Chronicle

The Student News Site of Quinnipiac University

The Quinnipiac Chronicle

What happened to TK?

The university allegedly fired women’s lacrosse head coach Tanya Kotowicz for playing an injured athlete. But internal documents — and the athlete’s dad — say she didn’t.
Internal+documents+obtained+by+The+Chronicle+cast+doubt+on+the+accusations+that+reportedly+led+to+the+termination+of+Quinnipiac+University+women%E2%80%99s+lacrosse+head+coach+Tanya+Kotowicz.+%28Photo+courtesy+of+Quinnipiac+Athletics%2FPhotoillustration+by+Cameron+Levasseur%29
Internal documents obtained by The Chronicle cast doubt on the accusations that reportedly led to the termination of Quinnipiac University women’s lacrosse head coach Tanya Kotowicz. (Photo courtesy of Quinnipiac Athletics/Photoillustration by Cameron Levasseur)

Competing narratives are beginning to emerge surrounding the mysterious departure of Quinnipiac University women’s lacrosse head coach Tanya “TK” Kotowicz.

Quinnipiac Athletics announced in January — seven weeks before women’s lacrosse’s 2024 season opener and seven months after the end of the team’s winningest season since 2011 — that Kotowicz was “leaving the program.” 

The Jan. 3 press release did not elaborate on the seventh-year head coach’s unexplained departure.

Ten minutes after the women’s lacrosse account posted the release to X — the platform formerly known as Twitter — Quinnipiac rugby head coach Becky Carlson called the university’s official statement “outrageous and not the whole story.”

“The coach didn’t ‘leave the program,’” Carlson wrote in her repost. “The truth will come out.”

Carlson declined to clarify what she meant by this. 

However, documents reviewed by The Chronicle indicate that Quinnipiac terminated Kotowicz following a two-month internal investigation into allegations that she forced an injured player to compete in an October 2023 offseason scrimmage. 

This documentation — a combination of email correspondences, text message exchanges, screenshots and video evidence — also raises serious questions about the veracity of these accusations and about the safety of some of the university’s athletic training practices.

Neither Kotowicz nor her attorney, Felice Duffy, responded to The Chronicle’s media inquiries. 

Quinnipiac Athletics spokesman Nick Solari — the fiancé of now-interim women’s lacrosse head coach Jordan Christopher — did not respond to repeated requests for comment.

But using these documents as well as source interviews, The Chronicle has compiled the following timeline of the events surrounding Kotowicz’s departure:

Infographic by Peyton McKenzie

BEGINNING OF THE FALL 2023 OFFSEASON: ISSUES EMERGE

Quinnipiac women’s lacrosse did not have a full-time athletic trainer assigned to its team at any point during Kotowicz’s tenure as head coach, despite what Athletics officials had apparently promised her when she was hired in 2016. Instead, internal emails indicate that, during the fall 2023 offseason, the team worked with four different athletic trainers on a rotating — but often random — basis. A fifth athletic trainer oversaw this rotation and served as the team’s administrative liaison.

Even then, women’s lacrosse often practiced without a trainer in attendance. Internal memos show that women’s lacrosse practices lacked athletic training coverage so frequently that Kotowicz was issued a walkie-talkie to communicate with the training room when no trainer was present.

A team source independently verified the content of an internal email alleging that, on at least one occasion, a member of the women’s lacrosse coaching staff used their personal vehicle to transport an injured player to the training room because an athletic trainer was unavailable. 

A university source alleged that this issue is not exclusive to women’s lacrosse, but rather is a department-wide concern.

The documents suggest that the athletic training procedures — or lack thereof — often caused confusion and miscommunication among the training staff and the team’s coaches.

Case in point, the women’s lacrosse team reportedly did not have a shared injury report document prior to the beginning of the 2023 offseason. 

But a screenshot found in an internal memo indicates that the lack of coordination among the team’s training staff led to the implementation of not one but two separate injury report spreadsheets last fall. 

The Dec. 4 screenshot shows that the two Microsoft Excel documents — one named “Women’s Lacrosse Injury Report 23-24,” the other named “WLAX Injury Report 2023-2024” — had been created by different team trainers.

While the first injury report had been edited approximately five days before the screenshot was taken, the latter of the two documents had been inactive for over two weeks.

And unlike the first injury report, this document’s most recent editor was not an athletic trainer — according to the screenshot, it was a Quinnipiac information security analyst.

Information security analysts are typically responsible for monitoring networks and investigating cybersecurity breaches.

Two things are not clear: why an information security analyst was examining the women’s lacrosse team’s injury report on Nov. 17, and whether this examination was conducted as part of the university’s investigation into Kotowicz.

The Chronicle was unable to access either injury report.

EARLY OCTOBER 2023: KOTOWICZ RAISES CONCERNS

An email reviewed by The Chronicle shows that Kotowicz contacted more than a half-dozen members of the sports medicine department in early October to voice concerns about a pattern of miscommunication between the women’s lacrosse coaching staff and the athletic training staff.

In the Oct. 3 email, Kotowicz identified inconsistencies and ambiguities within the team’s injury protocols. Athletes, she said, were being cleared to play in games without having practiced.

Kotowicz, pointing out the need for improved clarity surrounding the team’s injury reporting system and return-to-play procedures, advocated for a more consistent system of communication between her and sports medicine.

The team’s fifth athletic trainer — the one who oversaw the women’s lacrosse team from an administrative standpoint — reached out to Kotowicz that evening to try to establish a streamlined system of communication surrounding return-to-play.

Dan Smith, Quinnipiac’s head athletic trainer, replied to Kotowicz’s email the following day, though documentation of the email chain shows his response was only vaguely relevant to her concerns. Instead of addressing the communication aspect of athlete injury management, the athletic training administrator spoke only to the necessity of a gradual return-to-play protocol.

MID-OCTOBER 2023: THE INCIDENT

Roughly three weeks after Kotowicz began voicing concerns and advocating for additional athletic training support, one injured women’s lacrosse player entered the final stages of the return-to-play protocol.

The week of Oct. 16, one of the team’s athletic trainers informed the injured player that she must fully participate in two practices to play in the team’s Oct. 22 offseason tournament at Adelphi University.

Video evidence reviewed by The Chronicle proves that the player in question fully practiced on both Oct. 20 and Oct. 21. However, the trainer who set the conditions of her return did not attend the latter practice.

Kotowicz also later alleged in an internal memo that none of the team’s four athletic trainers traveled to the Oct. 22 contests in Garden City, New Jersey. The father of the athlete in question — who agreed to speak to The Chronicle on the condition that his daughter’s identity remain anonymous — verified this claim.

“The big thing is a trainer didn’t even go to the tournament with the team,” the athlete’s father, who attended the tournament, wrote in a text message statement to The Chronicle. “Which is odd.”

It’s more than just odd — it might go against NCAA recommendations. 

“Each member school has a legislative responsibility to provide medical care and coverage for its own student-athletes who are participating in sanctioned athletic activities, regardless of whether the events are occurring on campus or at another location,” NCAA guidance states. “Despite common historical practice, (a) member school should not assume that a host school will agree to take on those responsibilities for its visiting student-athletes.”

But while institutions legally must provide medical care to their student-athletes, NCAA policies are relatively flexible about how they go about doing that.

To put it another way: visiting teams can travel without their own medical staff. They just need to verify that the host school’s medical staff can accommodate them — and it is not known if Quinnipiac did that in October.

Regardless, an internal email indicates that, while on the 88-mile bus ride to Adelphi, the player in question asked Kotowicz if she was allowed to play. And because there was no trainer on the bus to confirm the player’s status, Kotowicz checked the injury report and told the athlete that she was listed as cleared to play “as tolerated.” A university source verified that coaches do not have the ability to edit injury reports. 

A screenshot of an Oct. 22 text message exchange shows that the athlete messaged the relevant trainer around the same time — just after 6:15 a.m. — to see if she was cleared to play in the three-game tournament. The trainer returned the player’s message approximately two hours later, telling her they didn’t “believe so” because she had not practiced fully.

Although the player later said she noted the discrepancy between Kotowicz’s response and the trainer’s response, the documents obtained by The Chronicle suggest that she simply assumed a different trainer — one who knew she had, in fact, fully practiced twice that week — had cleared her to play. 

However, the player never relayed this information to the trainer with whom she was texting. Instead, she sent the trainer a final text at 9:15 a.m. asking if she could warm up and play in the tournament for a few minutes. The trainer never responded to this message.

The athlete’s father stressed that it was Kotowicz, not his daughter, who expressed hesitation about her playing in the three-game tournament.

Kotowicz, he said, repeatedly told his daughter that she did not want her to risk reinjury in a meaningless offseason tournament. 

But the player’s dad, who attended the Oct. 22 tournament and encouraged his daughter to play, said she was practically “begging” Kotowicz to put her on the field. 

“We were trying to get her on the field as well,” he said.

The athlete warmed up before the first and second games, but it was not until the final minutes of the latter game that Kotowicz allowed her to play.

Although the athlete was on the field for less than 10 minutes, she texted the Quinnipiac trainer just after 2 p.m. to tell them she was experiencing pain again.

“I told you that you shouldn’t have played,” the trainer responded.

This is a misrepresentation of what the trainer had actually told her, though. The trainer’s 8:15 a.m. text — “I don’t believe so since we did not practice fully” — was not only less definitive than a clear “no,” but also based on the false belief that the athlete had not practiced.

The player told the trainer that, according to Kotowicz, “the thing said as tolerated.” But when the trainer replied, they refuted this claim.

“The injury report does not say as tolerated it says you are out for games,” the trainer told the player.

This trainer owned one but not both of the team’s injury report documents. It is unclear if the injury report the trainer was referring to was the same one Kotowicz had checked on the bus that morning. 

A later email indicates that Smith — the head athletic trainer who had largely ignored Kotowicz’s concerns in early October — texted her just before 6 p.m. on Oct. 22 to request a meeting on athlete and injury management.

Less than 10 minutes later, when Kotowicz apparently took a screenshot of the full injury report, the player at the center of the incident was not listed as cleared to play “as tolerated” — as Kotowicz had told the athlete she was that morning — but instead as “out.” 

A university source declined to provide the screenshot to The Chronicle, citing privacy laws.

Kotowicz reportedly met with Smith that week, though it is unknown what occurred in this meeting.

Seven months after coaching Quinnipiac women’s lacrosse to its best season since 2011, Tanya Kotowicz left the program. A Chronicle investigation shows that this was not her decision. (Quinnipiac Athletics)

NOVEMBER 2023: KOTOWICZ CONTINUES CHALLENGING ATHLETIC TRAINING PROTOCOLS

Documents indicate that Kotowicz reached out to sports medicine officials once again in early November to voice concerns about a lack of athletic training coverage at team practices and away games. 

The exact details of this meeting are unclear. However, in a subsequent email chain, Smith dismissed what he understood as a request for athletic training coverage at all team activities. Quinnipiac sports medicine, he wrote, only covers home games during the offseason — not training or away games.

But Kotowicz alleged in a follow-up email that she had only requested a radio from athletic training to ensure she could contact the training room during practice if necessary. She also reportedly asked to be copied on the athletic training room’s staff schedule so she would know beforehand which trainers were available and when, noting that she had been locked out of the training room on more than one occasion.

Kotowicz reached out for a third time less than two weeks later, this time to more directly challenge the safety of not having a trainer assigned to all team activities and to raise concerns about the injury report’s frequent inconsistencies and inaccuracies. 

She pointed out — just as the father of the athlete involved in the Oct. 22 incident had — the potential dangers of not having a Quinnipiac athletic trainer available at offseason practices, on the bus and at away contests.

And because the team’s four trainers rotated in and out, Kotowicz claimed the athletic training staff was rarely on the same page. At times, she said, the lack of streamlined communication meant one trainer would have updated information about a player’s eligibility status that another trainer would not.

Likewise, she alleged that the team’s two injury reports — two separate Microsoft Excel spreadsheets owned by two different athletic trainers — sometimes contained outdated or erroneous information and occasionally did not match one another.

NOVEMBER-DECEMBER 2023: INVESTIGATION UNDERWAY

The involved player’s father confirmed that a Quinnipiac human resources representative contacted his daughter in November to discuss what transpired on Oct. 22.

He alleged that the official who spoke with his daughter only seemed interested in the answer to one question: Did Kotowicz “force” her to play injured?

The athlete refuted this allegation, her father said. And a text his daughter sent to the trainer after being reinjured on Oct. 22 — “I really wanted to try because I felt good in warm ups” — would seem to corroborate this.

“TK did nothing wrong,” her father told The Chronicle. “We love TK.”

But while the university investigated Kotowicz’s role in the incident, the player’s father questioned why no athletic trainer traveled with the team that day — and whether Kotowicz would have been fired if one had.

“How can a D1 program not provide a trainer for a team playing (three) games?” he wrote in a text message statement to The Chronicle. “If a trainer was present would this have happened?”

And yet, he also made clear that neither he nor his daughter holds the university responsible for her injuries.

“Injuries happen,” he wrote. “We do not blame anyone for her getting hurt the first or second time.”

Representatives from the university’s human resources department reportedly met with Kotowicz for a second time in early December to discuss the findings of their investigation. 

What exactly was discussed in the Dec. 4 meeting is unknown.

However, documentation obtained by The Chronicle indicates that Kotowicz emailed a human resources official shortly after the apparent meeting to refute accusations of wrongdoing.

Kotowicz alleged, among other things, that university officials denied the existence of two separate injury reports and concluded that the involved player had not fully practiced twice. 

There is no known record of the injury report from the morning of Oct. 22, making it impossible to verify Kotowicz’s claim that the injury report initially cleared the involved athlete and was later changed to list her as “out.”

Regardless, video footage of the team’s Oct. 20 and Oct. 21 practices proves that the athlete satisfied the terms of the return-to-play protocol, and there is no evidence to suggest Kotowicz forced her to play.

JANUARY 2024: THE TERMINATION AND ITS AFTERMATH

The university terminated Kotowicz on Jan. 2. 

Because most Quinnipiac coaches are not under contract, Connecticut law provides the university the right to terminate their employment “at will” — that is, without providing a reason.

Athletics administrators apparently informed her on Jan. 2 that the department planned to release a statement the following morning announcing her “resignation.”

Kotowicz pushed back, reportedly refusing to sign the resignation paperwork because she was not, in fact, resigning — she was being fired.

In the wake of her dismissal, Kotowicz took to Instagram to share a 70-second video compilation of the more than two dozen messages of support she had received from her former athletes.

“I am so sorry it ended like this,” one such message included in the Jan. 4 post said. “I hope you know once we win that MAAC Championship it will be for you.”

Officially, it appears that the university terminated Kotowicz for playing an injured athlete.

But even that athlete’s father, describing the university’s investigation as a “witch hunt,” said he believes Quinnipiac had a pre-existing desire to fire Kotowicz and used a false narrative of the Oct. 22 incident as a pretext.

“The reason TK was fired was bullshit,” he said. “I don’t want her taking the fall for something that, from our perspective, didn’t happen.”

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  • A

    AllenFeb 15, 2024 at 7:47 pm

    She was doing what was best for the team and this is 100% bull$h!t! Then they replace TK with her boss’ fiancé? How sketchy can this university get?!?

    Reply
    • Z

      ZachFeb 20, 2024 at 3:42 pm

      Seems convenient that the newly appointed head coach is engaged to an assistant athletic director who aslo is the spokes person. No managing Bias or nepotism here or in the athletic department. The other coaches are the only ones with access to injury reports not hard to put together. A lot of shady stuff going on here. Look into the athletic administration and communication departments.

      Reply
  • K

    KatieFeb 13, 2024 at 12:57 pm

    advocating for the health and well being of your student athletes should not be a reason for dismissal

    Reply
  • R

    RichardFeb 13, 2024 at 6:26 am

    Kotowicz’s attorney Felice Duffy has a primary focus in discrimination cases, and QU does not have a good track record for non-discrimination – look at their PA program under DOJ investigation. QU is able to single out their own staff just like it does with their students, and this article shows another nasty side of how things are done there. The lack of transparency and hiding behind canned PR statements seems to be the norm.

    I encourage the women’s lacrosse team to voice their anonymous opinions here, and show their support for Kotowicz.

    Reply
  • I

    Ima NofoolFeb 12, 2024 at 8:17 pm

    i’ll bet hockey has a trainer at every practice and game

    Reply