UT, Vols the subject of federal sexual violence investigation

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You can add Tennessee to the growing number of universities who are the focus of a federal investigation connected to allegations of improper responses to reports of on- and off-campus sexual assaults.

The U.S. Department of Education’s Office of Civil Rights (OCR), The Tennessean is reporting, has launched an investigation into sexual violence at UT. The investigation, the paper stated, commenced on June 29.

In an email sent to faculty, staff and students, chancellor Jimmy Cheek vowed that the university “will cooperate fully with [the] OCR as it investigates the complaint.”

Over the past several months, it’s been reported across multiple media platforms that three Vols football players have been connected to sexual assault allegations while they were still members of the football team.

Following an investigation by local law enforcement that began in November of last year, then-current UT cornerback Michael Wil liams and former UT linebacker A.J. Johnson were indicted in mid-February by a Knox County grand jury on two counts each of aggravated rape.  Both pleaded not guilty a month later, although Johnson had already seen his invitation to the NFL combine rescinded while it was reported in June that the Vols had “moved on” from Williams.

According to reports that surfaced in mid-November, a 19-year-old UT student claimed that Johnson and Williams raped her at the former’s residence in a Knoxville apartment complex. The unnamed woman claimed that the assault lasted 45 minutes, and occurred during the course of a party being held following UT’s win over Kentucky.

Another 19-year-old woman claimed she was sexually assaulted at the same location around the same time by Williams.

The first woman was treated at the UT Medical Center. The second alleged victim declined treatment and headed back to her home in Florida. She also initially declined to pursue charges despite claims of being sexually assaulted, but did cooperate with the grand jury.

Then, in late April of this year, reports surfaced that wide receiver Von Pearson was a suspect in the investigation of an alleged rape.  Pearson has been indefinitely suspended by head coach Butch Jones, although no charges have been filed and no arrests made in connection to the alleged sexual assault.

Those are the three that have been well-publicized and chronicled; according to The Tennessean, however, there are three other Vols football players who were on the roster in 2014 who have been accused of sexual assault.

In April of 2013, running back Marlin Lane, whose eligibility expired after the 2014 season, was on the receiving end of what turned out to be a two-month suspension that was attributed to “disciplinary reasons.” The paper writes that “Lane… was named as a suspect in the rape of an 18-year-old high school student in Lane’s dorm room on April 9, 2013,” four days before his suspension. No charges were filed after the alleged victim declined to pursue the case.

In February of this year, Riyahd Jones, who was on the team in 2014 but is no longer a part of the team, was named as a suspect in a sexual assault that was reported to the Knoxville police. The Tennessean writes that “[n]o charges have been filed, and police have declined to provide a copy of the full police report, saying that the district attorney’s office could still decide to pursue charges.”

The last of the sixth is explained by the paper thusly:

In September a football player was named in a sexual assault complaint made to university officials by a freshman woman, according to an internal university investigation and emails from university officials obtained by The Tennessean. University officials investigated the case and issued a finding that no assault occurred and the incident was instead consensual sex. The player remains in good standing on the team. The Tennessean is not naming the football player because he has not been publicly accused and no police report was filed.

In addition to UT, Florida State and Vanderbilt are the subject of federal investigations into how they handled reports of sexual assault. Both of those probes are in part connected to the football programs at the respective universities.

Dave Aranda trending in UNLV search

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Dave Aranda makes more money in one year as LSU’s defensive coordinator than Tony Sanchez would earn in four as UNLV’s head coach.

But, still, the $600,000 Sanchez earned before his firing in Las Vegas as a living that most of us would deem more than comfortable, especially for a guy who began his career as a JV coach at Redlands High School back in 1995.

So that, and UNLV’s history of losing, are not enough to scare off Aranda from the UNLV job. Multiple outlets reported Tuesday that Aranda has emerged as a strong candidate for the vacant Rebels’ head coaching job. (Full disclosure: I also work for FootballScoop.)

UNLV went 4-8 in 2019 and 20-40 in five seasons under Sanchez. In fact, the last coach to leave the desert with a winning record did so in 1985.

Still, Aranda has been part of the turnaround at previously-moribund Utah State, and UNLV’s history is part of the intrigue for him.

Aranda is not UNLV’s next head coach at this time, but he could be. That alone is cause for celebration in Vegas.

Western Michigan’s Jon Wassink wins Wuerffel Trophy as college football’s top community servant

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Western Michigan quarterback Jon Wassink has been named the 2019 winner of the Wuerffel Trophy as college football’s top community servant, it was announced Tuesday.

The trophy is named in honor of Florida Heisman Trophy-winning quarterback Danny Wuerffel. He will receive the award at the All Sports Association’s annual banquet in Fort Walton Beach, Fla.

“We are excited to announce that Jon is this year’s recipient of the Wuerffel Trophy and are thrilled about him joining our family of past winners,” said Wuerffel. “What he has done serving others off the field, along with his work in the classroom and on the playing field, represents what the Wuerffel Trophy is all about. Also, I’d like to say the same about our other two finalists, Isaiah Sanders of the U.S. Air Force Academy and Derrick Brown of Auburn University. The amount of community service that these young men have done is just incredible. Hats off to these amazing student athletes.”

Wassink is also a finalist for the Campbell Trophy as the nation’s top scholar-athlete, which will be awarded Tuesday night during the National Football Foundation’s annual dinner. The Wuerffel Trophy announcement was made in conjunction with the NFF festivities.

Wassink carries a 3.96 GPA as an accounting major. A three-year starter and a two-time MAC Distinguished Scholar-Athlete, the Grand Rapids native has thrown for 6,289 career yards, rushed for 581 yards and scored 63 total touchdowns.

He led the Broncos to within a game of the MAC West championship and will close his career in the First Responder Bowl against Western Kentucky on Dec. 30, and he’ll do so with one and perhaps two major off-the-field awards in hand.

Mike Gundy calls Texas A&M ‘the best 7-5 team in the history of the NCAA’

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Mike Gundy has a dry sense of humor and a delivery flatter than the Stillwater topography, which can make it hard to parse when he’s being serious and when he’s not — which makes his sense of humor all the sharper.

But in this case, it seems like he was giving Oklahoma State’s Texas Bowl opponent a genuine complement, even if it reads on the page (or, uh, screen) as if he was attempting to damn Texas A&M with faint praise.

“I think they are the best 7-5 team in the history of the NCAA in my opinion,” said Mike Gundy on Sunday, via Pistols Firing. “They have lost to No. 1; they have lost to No. 1; they have lost to No. 1; they lost to No. 4; and they lost to No. 12. That’s their five losses.

“They are definitely a top-20 team. I haven’t started watching tape on them. I watched them on TV a couple times. I know that they are very athletic. I know that their quarterback, he’s a third-rated quarterback in the SEC, only behind the Heisman Trophy winner and behind Tua. So it will be a great challenge for us. We’ll have to get to work as soon as possible. We’ll have to have great preparation and we’ll have to play a very good game against a very, very good team.”

Texas A&M became the first team in AP poll era to face three separate AP No. 1 teams — postseason included — and did so during the regular season. The Aggies’ five losses came to then-No. 1 Clemson, then-No. 8 Auburn, then-No. 1 Alabama, then-No. 4 Georgia and then-No. 1 LSU. No. 25 Oklahoma State went 8-4 this season with losses to the-No. 12 Texas, unranked Texas Tech, then-No. 18 Baylor and then-No. 7 Oklahoma.

Gundy and company will attempt to make the Aggies the best 7-6 team in NCAA history come Dec. 27 (6:45 p.m. ET, ESPN).

Buffalo suspends RB Dylan McDuffie after domestic violence arrest

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When Buffalo takes the field for the Bahamas Bowl Dec. 20, the MAC program will do so down a man in its backfield.

Saturday night, running back Dylan McDuffie was arrested on domestic violence charges.  Details of what led up to the arrest and charges have not yet been released, although the school did acknowledge that the alleged victim is not a student at the university.

As a result of the incident, McDuffie has been indefinitely suspended by the football program.

“Whenever there is a serious violation of our program’s code of conduct, we will take immediate action to address the situation, with the understanding that the university and law enforcement has a process that must be respected and followed,” a statement from head coach Lance Leipold read. “Domestic violence will not be tolerated.”

In its release, the school added that “[s]tudents are told in no uncertain terms that they put their academic and athletic careers at risk by breaking the law or violating UB’s Student Code of Conduct.”

A redshirt freshman, McDuffie is currently third on the Bulls in rushing with 150 yards.  His 6.5 yards per carry leads the team.