As most people draw up their lists of campus victims, wrestlers and fraternity members don't typically hover near the top. But by discouraging members of the Brown University wrestling team he coaches from joining fraternities, Dave Amato has some alumni and students complaining that both groups are being mistreated.
For years, Brown wrestlers were prominent participants in the Delta Tau fraternity. But about three years ago, Delta Tau officers and alumni say, Amato began telling members of his team that they could wrestle for him or join a fraternity, but not both. When some alumni complained in 2003, they and the coach negotiated what seemed to be a ceasefire.
This year, though, with the fraternity struggling to attract enough pledges to retain its status as a legitimate option for on-campus student housing, advocates for the fraternity say, Amato again began discouraging freshmen from pledging (or, as some alumni see it, intimidating them into not pledging). According to the Brown Daily Herald, the student newspaper, at least two freshman wrestlers pledged to join fraternities and then withdrew before last week's deadline for signing up. One of them withdrew from Delta Tau, dropping the fraternity below the number of new pledges needed to remain an on-campus housing option.
Amato's critics say his actions violate university rules that bar students, professors or administrators from intimidating others or interfering "with the rights of others to make use of or enjoy the facilities or attend the functions of the university."
"This is not a fraternity issue -- it's an issue where someone in a position of responsibility dictated something they had no business dictating," says Jon Land, who is alumni president of another fraternity, Delta Phi, and alumni representative to the university's Fraternity Council. "What is the difference between this and if a professor said that anyone who is a member of the gay alliance at Brown is not allowed to take his class? There is no difference."
Land calls the coach's actions "virtually fascist." "If Brown or any school allows someone in any position that's supervisory to dictate something like that, where does it stop?"
Amato was traveling Wednesday at the National Collegiate Athletic Association Division I wrestling championship, and a Brown spokesman, Mark Nickel, said that he could not be reached. Nickel also said that Brown officials prefer "not to comment" on the situation until after a meeting, currently scheduled for Friday, to discuss the situation.
In an interview with the Daily Herald, though, Amato acknowledged telling freshman wrestlers "why I didn't think it was a good idea" to join fraternities, although he insisted that he did not see his action as intimidation.
Amato said he told the wrestlers that they faced a serious time commitment, and that to the extent they were seeking involvement in other activities, "we thought they'd be better off if they did things like community service." he said.
The coach told the student newspaper that he had also grown increasingly concerned about the reputation of Delta Tau, which had its on-campus housing privileges suspended for five years in 1997 because of "unreasonably disruptive" behavior, according to the Daily Herald. The fraternity returned to campus in 2002 and has behaved in a way that is "almost exemplary" since then, says Land.
"Delt used to be a great place, but the last few years we were getting in trouble, we were getting lumped together," Amato told the Daily Herald. "It got to the point where, in my evaluation, it said we needed more team discipline."
A Delta Tau alumnus, Al Romano, who is also a lawyer in Providence, R.I., where Brown is located, wrote in an e-mail message to university administrators last week that he had been asked to "investigate the propriety of legal action against Coach Amato as well as the university (since the coach was clearly acting as a university official in a sanctioned role)."