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BUTTE -- Taking the stand for the last time Friday in her federal sexual discrimination lawsuit against Montana State University, a former women's basketball coach denied allegations she mistreated her players and reaffirmed her contention that the university routinely discriminated against her team.

Robin Potera-Haskins also claimed she was fired because she complained about the federal gender-discrimination violations. She is asking to be reinstated.

On Friday, Potera-Haskins characterized the university's inquiries into players' complaints against her as underhanded and secretive.

She repeated her assertion that she was never informed of an athletic committee's inquiries into the women's basketball team after players said she was too harsh and violated NCAA practice time rules. When she did learn of their claims, she was never given details despite requests for them, she said.

MSU kept her in the dark "and undermined her every step of the way," she said.

"I was totally unaware that the committee was meeting with players," Potera-Haskins testified. "I would have done anything possible if I had just known what was going on. You can't fix it when you don't even know what the problem is."

MSU athletic director Peter Fields limited the women's team's practice time as penalty for the NCAA violation.

Potera-Haskins coached the Bobcats from 2001 to 2004, won 54 games and became the first head coach in MSU women's basketball history to win back-to-back Big Sky Conference titles, which she did in 2002 and 2003. She was fired without cause on April 8, 2004.

Testifying Friday, MSU engineering professor Robert Oakberg, a member of the athletic committee that looked into players' claims they were being mistreated, characterized himself as "the president's mole within student athletics."

Oakberg investigated claims that student athletes exceeded the NCAA mandated 20-hour per week practice limit. He testified that discrepancies between coaches' records and players' claims may have been due to a misunderstanding of a 15-minute stretching period the coach required prior to practices.

Potera-Haskins claimed the NCAA rule violation was trumped up and that the penalty was Fields' retaliation against her after she told MSU administrators that he pressured her into putting his daughter on her team and giving her an athletic scholarship.

She also said pre-practice warm-up was voluntary and should not have been counted in the players' weekly hours.

Oakberg's report was "a total manipulation of the truth," she said. "It was a fabrication of what actually happened."

The former coach also testified that her team was routinely thrown out of the Brick Breeden Fieldhouse to make way for the men's football team, sometimes only minutes before their practice was scheduled to begin.

"My team was sentenced to Romney Gym" which is substandard and "not game-like," she said. "That didn't happen to Coach Durham," she added, referring to the men's basketball coach at the time.

Throughout the bench trial, Potera-Haskins alleged that she was micromanaged by school administrators in a way that men's coaches were not.

Appearing by video from New Mexico where Mick Durham is now coaching men's basketball, he testified last week that Fields was "very hands off" with the MSU's men's basketball team.

Potera-Haskins said several players were regularly insubordinate, belligerent and disrespectful to her and assistant coaches during practices, an allegation former assistant coach Matt Wallis confirmed on Friday.

Wallis, who worked at MSU for a single season, denied that Potera-Haskins humiliated her players, used profanity or called them names.

"Never," he said. "Her behavior was standard."

Throughout the trial, administrators and members of the athletic committee testified their decision to fire Potera-Haskins was not influenced by her complaints against Fields or allegations of gender discrimination.

"Absolutely not," each one said. It was about the students.

Judge Sam Haddon is not expected to make a ruling for at least two months. If Haddon rules against Potera-Haskins, she will consider appealing, her attorney David Colapinto said after the trial concluded.

Jodi Hausen can be reached at jhausen@dailychronicle.com or 582-2630. Read her blog at jhausen.wordpress.com or follow her on Twitter @bozemancrime.

 

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