Charges broaden against SMU women's basketball

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by By BYRON HARRIS / WFAA-TV

kvue.com

Posted on August 15, 2009 at 4:38 PM

Updated Monday, Oct 19 at 6:43 PM

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Byron Harris reports
September 25, 2008

DALLAS - For Jennifer Colli,playing basketball at Southern Methodist University was as good as it got.

Colli has been a hoops fanatic since she was a kid. A high school basketball star in Flower Mound, she was voted one of the top 25 high school players in Texas.

While other universities worked to recruit her, Colli's sister had already played at SMU. She said she was ecstatic to join the SMU team with a basketball scholarship in 2005.

But her excitement soon turned to shock at the first team gathering, which was when she said Coach Rhonda Rampola said she would not tolerate relationships, referring to gay relationships, among her players.

"I was sitting around and looking and thinking, is this normal?" she said while recalling the meeting held in the locker room. "Is this what we talk about in team meetings?"

Colli said Rampola asked players about their relationships with each other. Colli said several players on the team were gay.

"That's a choice," she said. "If you want to do that or whoever, that's their choice. It's not the coach's choice to tell them who not to date."

As the season advanced, Colli said she began keeping a diary of problems in the program, which included Rampola's continuous monitoring of players relationships.

Colli said a teammate also stole an English paper she wrote and submitted the work as her own. She also noted that one of the coach's drank alcohol with players who were minors, and she said players commonly used marijuana.

"There are certain drugs that have distinctive smells, and in the huddle you could smell it," she said.

Colli presented the list to SMU athletic director Steve Orsini.

"Our coaching staff says it didn't happen," Orsini said.

While the director said he believes Colli's accusations are all lies, the credibility of head coach Rampola is in question.

Three SMU media guides describe Rampola as an all-American player in her college days. But, Colli said that wasn't the case and told Orsini about it. She said he seemed unconcerned. In the latest SMU media guide, the all-American references about Rampola have been deleted. And Thursday, SMU issued a clarification that said, "Rhonda Rampola was a pre-season honorable mention all-America at Old Dominion, and second-team all-America at SMU in 1981-82."

"I would definitely say that after being through this, honesty is not something that is promoted at SMU," Colli said.

In the fall of 2006, Colli was stripped of her scholarship. The athletic department said her scholarship was taken away because she lied about the charges and violated school rules.

"She was retaliated against for bringing to the athletic director items which she says negatively affected the team," said Mike Kelley, Colli's lawyer.

Kelly contends Colli never got a hearing before the student disciplinary authority, as SMU rules dictate. And, when she appealed her case, the appeals committee never revealed Colli's evidence, which contained affidavits from fellow players Katie Gross, Chelsea Tiner, Leah Starr and her sister Juli Colli. Those affidavits bolstered some of Colli's claims.

Colli has also been supported by an e-mail written by Women's Basketball Hall of Famer Nancy Lieberman. In the e-mail to Jennifer Colli's mother, Lieberman wrote, "A player should never feel threatened by a coach or an authority figure ...many SMU players have [spoken] to me informally seeking my opinion on what has been happening to them at SMU."

"Look at what honesty got me," Colli said. "It got me no scholarship and nowhere to play basketball."

Colli said she has effectively been blackballed from college basketball.

SMU, declining to be interviewed, said two university offices investigated the student's allegations and the results of the investigations did not support the student's claims. SMU stands by its findings and will address the issues in court.

Colli is seeking $2,000,000 in damages.

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