Holy Cross Basketball Coach is Suspended for Alleged Abuse

PHOTO: Holy Cross womens basketball coach Bill Gibbons outlines a play for his team during practice at the Hart Center in Worcester, MassAP
In this Nov. 4, 2010 photo, Holy Cross women's basketball coach Bill Gibbons outlines a play for his team during practice at the Hart Center in Worcester, Mass. Former Holy Cross player Ashley Cooper, 20, filed a lawsuit in New York Tuesday, Oct. 15, 2013, against the school, Gibbons, and school officials. (AP Photo/The Telegram & Gazette, Steve Lanava)

The longtime women's basketball coach at the College of the Holy Cross was suspended today, pending the outcome of an investigation into his conduct.

In a brief statement e-mailed this afternoon, Holy Cross, in Worcester, Mass., said Bill Gibbons volunteered for the paid administrative leave in the wake of a lawsuit filed yesterday, detailing a pattern of physical verbal and emotional abuse toward the players on his Division 1 team.

The statement said Gibbons notified his players that he would "step back from his coaching duties while the college reviews claims in the lawsuit filed by a former student and member of the basketball team. His assistant coaches will now assume all coaching duties."

No time frame was given for completing the inquiry. Gibbons, who has led the team for nearly 30 years, declined to comment, according to the college's spokeswoman. Calls by ABC News to his home were not returned.

Less than a day earlier, ABC News reported that former scholarship player Ashley Cooper filed a civil suit in Manhattan that laid bare an ugly history of abuse behind the façade of the college's legendary women's basketball program, according to Cooper's suit.

Cooper, 20, charges that Gibbons struck and berated members of the team repeatedly and sometimes "in front of hundreds of witnesses" during games. She said complaints about the abuse were covered up and ignored.

The court papers, filed in Manhattan, said that the college turned a blind eye to abuse that was well known among team members. Cooper accused the school's athletic director of being negligent in refusing to take any action.

Now a student at New York University, Cooper said the abuse she suffered forced her to transfer out of Holy Cross after two years. The abuse left her unable to play the game she loved since childhood, Cooper said.

And the college switch forced her to go from a full-ride scholarship to paying tuition and fees in Manhattan.

She told ABC News in an exclusive interview that she came forward because "I don't want this to happen to anyone else ever again. I want to stop it. I'm doing this for other people. I'm taking a stand for others, for every freshman that walks through the door."

Today, Cooper's lawyer said the college's announcement is a good start, and others are now coming forward to share their stories of abuse.

"I am pleased to hear the college is finally taking some positive steps to address this situation which has been festering for years," said the attorney, Elizabeth Eilender. "I am sure Ashley is going to feel validated by this move and [she] has been contacted by former players of Gibbons who have shared their experiences, which are very unfavorable."

In her lawsuit, Cooper said Gibbons' "actions constitute the worst type of bullying because not only is defendant Gibbons her coach and supervisor, but also he is someone she is supposed to respect." She said she was reduced to "fear of physical pain," the filing states, adding that opponents witnessed the abuse and consoled members of the Crusaders with comments like "your coach is crazy."

Two instances of alleged abuse occurred during games that were recorded, according to the lawsuit. ABC News has requested copies of the recordings from the college, though officials have not said whether they would provide them.

Soon after the lawsuit was filed, the college issued its first statement, saying, "The physical, mental and emotional well-being of our students is our highest priority at Holy Cross. We just received the lawsuit and are in the process of reviewing it. Ms. Cooper had brought her concern to the college and we investigated at that time. The lawsuit we received today includes a series of new allegations and we will now bring in outside counsel to review them."

Gibbons is a legend at the college, based in the Boston suburb. He is only the sixth person to coach the women's basketball team and has won the most games among that group.