Feds probing Michigan’s response to 2009 rape allegations

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A story that Michigan hopes will quickly fade into the background simply won’t.  If anything, it continues to do nothing but grow in size and scope.

According to the Detroit News, an arm of the United State Department of Education, the Office for Civil Rights, has launched an investigation into the university’s handling of and response to an alleged rape in 2009.  The victim in the alleged rape was a UM student while the alleged attacker was former Wolverines kicker Brendan Gibbons.

While Gibbons was arrested in connection to the alleged rape, he was never formally charged.

Two formal complaints filed with the Department of Education prompted the investigation.  Thus far, the timeline of the university’s response to the alleged incident has raised questions as to the handling of the situation. with some hinting of a coverup on behalf of the storied football program.  Head coach Brady Hoke released a statement earlier this month defending the “character… integrity” of the program and the university, but questions still remain as to why it took four years for Gibbons to be expelled.

According to the Michigan Daily report, revised university policies related to sexual misconduct on campus led to review of various allegations, including the case involving Gibbons. This revised policy ultimately led to the school’s decision to expel Gibbons.

Nov. 20 of last year, Gibbons was informed via a letter from the university that it had been determined there is a “preponderance of evidence” to suggest he committed sexual misconduct.  Three days later, Gibbons played in Michigan’s three-point loss to Iowa.  Gibbons did not play in the regular-season finale against Ohio State due to what was described as a muscle pull.  Hoke announced Dec. 23 that Gibbons would not travel with the team for the Wolverines’ Buffalo Wild Wings Bowl game against Kansas State due to a family matter.

Three days prior to Hoke’s revelation, Gibbons was notified by the school that he had been expelled.  Questions of when Hoke and the football program became aware of the issue surrounding Gibbons have swirled of late, although Hoke, when asked that question directly, cited privacy laws in declining to answer.  In his statement defending the UM athletic department, Hoke said that “while I would like to be more forthcoming, I can’t provide any details due to federal privacy laws and University policies.”

One of the complaints that prompted the DOE probe came from blogger Douglas Smith, who received the following response from the federal agency:

“[The Office for Civil Rights] has determined it is appropriate to proceed to investigation on the following issue: that the university failed to promptly and equitably respond to complaints, reports and/or incidents of sexual violence of which it had notice, and, as a result, students were subjected to a sexually hostile environment.”

For its part, the university said in a statement that it is proud of its policy in regards to matters such as these and that it is fully cooperating with the DOE.

“We’re very proud of our student sexual misconduct policy, our prevention efforts and our programs to support survivors of sexual misconduct,” UM spokesman Rick Fitzgerald said according to the Press. “We will fully cooperate with the Department of Education and we believe that a review of our policy, programs and investigations will conclude that the University of Michigan is doing what it should in this important area.”

Phillip Fulmer says he’s ready to help Tennessee recruit again

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Former Tennessee head coach and recently-named athletics director Phillip Fulmer is ready to get back in the mix on the recruiting trail on behalf of the Vols. With a  new head coach in place (Jeremy Pruitt) and a new staff coming together in Knoxville, having Fulmer provide a couple nuggets of insight every now and then can come in handy. After all, Fulmer was recruiting as Tennessee’s head coach for a long time and he has come to learn a thing or two about the recruiting pipeline in Knoxville.

But Fulmer is preparing himself to go another step farther in the recruiting efforts, should he be needed. According to Michael Bratton of Saturday Down South, via Twitter, Fulmer says he has already passed the necessary NCAA testing to be cleared to officially recruit football players to Tennessee.

That is certainly interesting to see because it is not the norm for an athletics director to get involved in the recruiting efforts of a school beyond approving recruiting budgets and events. But if there is any doubt Fulmer has been itching to help get Tennessee back on track as an SEC contender, his move to land the AD role and quick action to clear himself to be able to recruit for the program should speak volumes about his commitment to improving the Vols on the football field even if he is no longer the head coach.

The only question left to answer here is just how involved Fulmer will actually be in the recruiting efforts, or if this is a short-term play as Tennessee builds a new staff just before an early signing period in college football.

Peach Bowl still in doubt for Auburn RB Kamryn Pettway

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The game is still a few weeks away, but Auburn running back Kamryn Pettway‘s availability will be in question every passing day until the Tigers kickoff against UCF in Atlanta. Asked about the possibility of having Pettway retrun from injury to play in the Peach Bowl against the undefeated AAC champions, Auburn head coach Gus Malzahn said he simply cannot predict what will happen.

“I don’t know the answer to that quite yet,” Malzahn said last week, as noted by Gridiron Now. “It’s hard for me to answer that right now. Maybe as it gets a little closer, I can be a little more accurate.”

Pettway has been sidelined by a shoulder injury, which was expected to cost him a significant amount of playing time for the remainder of the season. However, Auburn never officially ruled Pettway’s season to be done as a result of the injury, which leaft the door open for a possible bowl appearance if Pettway is able to recover in time and be cleared to play.

Pettway has rushed for 305 yards and six touchdowns out of the Auburn backfield this season. Kerryon Johnson has carried the running game for Auburn this season, and Pettway’s potential return would be more of a complimentary role in a bowl game.

Division II, Division III and NAIA title games set while FCS heads into semifinals

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Outside of a thrilling Army-Navy game and the Heisman ceremony, it was an empty Saturday at the highest level of college football.

But no so at the lower levels.

The divisional playoffs are cranked into high gear. Let’s take a brief look at where everything stands in each division.

FCS

Top-seeded and defending champion James Madison needed a last-second field goal to survive visiting Weber State, 31-28, on Friday night, while No. 5 seed South Dakota State routed New Hampshire, 55-14.

On the other side of the bracket, No. 2 seed and winner of five of the last six national titles North Dakota State walloped Wofford, 42-10 in Fargo. No. 6 seed Sam Houston State outlasted upstart Kennesaw State, 34-27, to send the Bearkats into their fifth semifinal game in the last seven years.

Semifinals: No. 5 South Dakota State at No. 1 James Madison — 4:30 p.m. ET Saturday, ESPNU; No. 6 Sam Houston State at No. 2 North Dakota State — 8 p.m. ET Friday, ESPN2.

Division II

No. 4 seed West Florida traveled north and upset top-seeded Indiana (Pa.), 27-17 on Saturday, to send the Argonauts into their first championship game. No. 2 seed Texas A&M-Commerce fended off the option attack of No. 3 Harding (Ark.), 31-17, putting the Lions in their first title game as well.

National championship: No. 2 Texas A&M-Commerce vs. No. 4 West Florida — 6 p.m. ET Saturday on ESPN2 at Children’s Mercy Park in Kansas City, Kan.

Division III

In a similar dynamic to FCS, the defending champion is on a collision course with the traditional champion. In the first semifinal, defending champion Mary Hardin-Baylor (Texas) blanked Brockport (N.Y.), 24-0. The Crusaders will make their third trip to the Amos Alonzo Stagg Bowl, looking to win their second title.

In the other semifinal, Mount Union (Ohio) overcame a 21-10 deficit to beat Wisconsin-Oshkosh, 43-40. The Purple Raiders will play in their 20th Stagg Bowl — all of them coming since 1993, and 19 of them since ’96 — with a shot at their 13th national championship. However, Mount Union has won just — “just” — two national championships since 2009.

National championship: Mary Hardin-Baylor (Texas) vs. Mount Union (Ohio) — 7 p.m. ET Friday on ESPN at Salem Stadium in Salem Va.

NAIA

The NAIA was off this weekend, taking a break in between last week’s semifinals and Saturday’s national championship. Defending champion Saint Francis (Ind.) out-gunned previously-undefeated Morningside (Iowa) 43-36 in the first semifinal, while Reinhardt (Ga.) held off undefeated Southern Oregon, 37-34 in double overtime.

National championship: Saint Francis (Ind.) vs. Reinhardt (Ga.) — 6 p.m. ET Saturday on ESPN3 at Municipal Stadium in Daytona Beach, Fla.

Minnesota lands commitment from 6-foot-8, 395-pound offensive tackle

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P.J. Fleck is going to need a bigger boat.

Minnesota has landed a commitment from the largest recruit on record, as 6-foot-8, 395-pound offensive tackle Daniel Faalele has committed to the Gophers. Faalele made the announcement on his Twitter page on Saturday night.

A 3-star recruit, Faalele is rated as the No. 29 offensive tackle in the country, according to 247Sports. He listed 20 offers, including from the likes of Alabama, Georgia, Michigan and LSU.

As the story goes, Faalele did not find football; football found him. He was discovered by a recruiter from Hawaii working out at a gym in his native Melbourne, Australia. He attended a Michigan satellite camp in Australia and played this season — his first season in pads — at IMG Academy in Bradenton, Fla.

In making the trip from the Land Down Under to the Land of 10,000 Lakes, Faalele will be joined by a pair of IMG Academy teammates in offensive lineman Curtis Dunlap, Jr., and quarterback Zack Annexstad, who also committed to Minnesota on Saturday.

Those pledges now give Minnesota the 26th best recruiting class in the country and the sixth best in the Big Ten — but the No. 1 class in the Big Ten West — in the 247Sports Composite rankings.

Minnesota’s class may not be the best in the country, but it’s among the biggest — both in size (the Gophers have 25 pledges thus far) and stature.