DE Sam Ukwuachu found guilty of raping ex-Baylor soccer player

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On the same day a damning report involving Baylor’s handling of a situation involving one of its players made the rounds, said situation came to a head.  Suffice to say, BU will have some serious and much-needed explaining to do moving forward.

On trial for charges that he sexually assaulted a female BU student in October of 2013, Sam Ukwuachu was found guilty of those charges by a Waco jury Thursday evening.  Ukwuachu’s victim was a former Bears soccer player, with the rape occurring after Baylor’s homecoming win over Iowa State while he was still a listed member of the football program.

Because some of the witnesses in the trial came from out of state, the case has already gone into the penalty phase.  Ukwuachu is facing up to 20 years in prison.

The conviction is the latest in what’s fast becoming a sordid story connected to the rising Bears football program.

In May of 2013, Ukwuachu was dismissed by then-Boise State head coach Chris Petersen for violating unspecified team rules.  While the reasons were unspecified, the dismissal, it was subsequently reported, was triggered by a violent episode involving a female BSU student who was in a romantic relationship with the then-Bronco.

In the damning report mentioned up top, Texas Monthly wrote that “Ukwuachu claimed after the transfer was announced that Baylor’s coaches ‘knew everything’ about what happened in Idaho; and, as indicated by court documents obtained by Texas Monthly, the two programs had some communication regarding Ukwuachu in which Boise State officials expressed reticence about supporting the player’s efforts to get back on the field.”

Ukwuachu transferred to BU in June of 2013, sitting out that season to satisfy NCAA transfer rules and sitting out last season for unspecified reasons; Ukwuachu’s attorney subsequently confirmed that his client had been indicted on two counts of felony sexual assault.

Despite the knowledge of what happened at Boise, and that Ukwuachu was connected to sexual assault allegations while at his new school — again, according to reports — BU defensive coordinator Phil Bennett sounded very confident this past June that, for whatever reason, the end would be eligible to play for the Bears in 2015.

“Ukwuachu is a guy we’re expecting to be back,Phil Bennett said of the former Freshman All-American. “We expect him to be eligible in July. That gives us probably five or six guys we can play at end.”

Bennett’s boss, a little over a month later, liked how the situation involving Ukwuachu has been handled on all ends.

“That’s been an ongoing situation for I don’t know, a year and a half probably and we’ve been real sensitive to the process,” Bears head coach Art Briles stated Aug. 6. “We’ve sat back and waited for it all to take shape and see what the outcome is. So, I like the way we’ve handled it as a university, an athletic department and a football program.”

“We are looking forward to the trial,” Ukwuachu’s attorney, Jonathan Sibley, said earlier this month. “Sam passed a polygraph exam, he’s been cleared by Baylor and has graduated and is 100 percent innocent of these charges against him. He has done everything a man can do to clear his name and he is looking forward to the trial so he can finally do that.”

As Sibley mentioned, Ukwuachu was “cleared” by Baylor following an investigation that has come under intense scrutiny, so much so that the player’s defense team wasn’t permitted by a judge to mention it at trial.  Again, from the Texas Monthly piece:

Jury selection in Ukwuachu’s trial began Monday, and during in limine motions to determine what evidence would be admissible, assistant district attorney Hilary Laborde, who is prosecuting the case, told 54th District Judge Matt Johnson that Baylor’s own investigation into the accusations against Ukwuachu involved interviewing just Ukwuachu, his accuser, and one friend of each, and that the school never saw the rape kit collected by the sexual assault nurse examiner. The woman Ukwuachu is accused of sexually assaulting went to the hospital and talked to the police on October 20, 2013, the day after the encounter. But after the school’s investigation (so insufficient, according to the court, that the judge sustained a motion from the prosecution to restrict the defense from referencing it during the trial), Baylor took no action to discipline Ukwuachu, even while charges were still pending. From Baylor’s brief investigation, to its failure to consider disciplinary action, to its defensive coordinator’s statements this summer about the player’s expected return, the school’s idea of how to respond to serious rape allegations is seriously out of step with that of the courts.

Some hard questions should be asked of both the football program and the university over this debacle.  Just as much, open and honest answers should be demanded and, most importantly, freely offered by both bodies.

In the interim, the school offered up the following comment in the wake of the guilty verdict.

https://twitter.com/ShehanJeyarajah/status/634530924206686208/photo/1

Pac-12 player group ‘disappointed’ after commissioner call

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The Pac-12 players of the “WeAreUnited” movement said they were “disappointed and deeply concerned” after a recent meeting with the conference’s commissioner.

The players sent an email to Pac-12 Commissioner Larry Scott late Friday accusing him of not taking the issues they have raised seriously enough. The email was also shared with members of the media.

The group’s correspondence came after Scott followed their Thursday call with an email to the players that struck a very different tone, thanking them for the “passion and honesty with which you spoke yesterday evening.”

The group is pushing the conference to address their concerns about COVID-19 protocols, racial injustice in college sports and economic rights for college athletes. Players threatened opting out of practices and games if their demands aren’t addressed. Leaders of the group have said their movement has more than 400 players from around the conference supporting it.

In their email to the commissioner, the players said they were unsatisfied with Scott’s answers to question about increasing the frequency of COVID-19 testing done on athletes and the mandating of best practices across the conference.

“Without a discernible plan and mandates to ensure the health and safety of student-athletes, it is absurd, offensive, and deadly to expect a season to proceed,” they said.

When the players went public with their demands last Sunday, they reached out to the Pac-12 and requested daily meetings with conference officials. Instead, they got one call last week and a pledge from the conference for continued communication.

“You informed us we cannot have legal representation attend these meetings to assist in connection with our legal rights, nor were you willing to even have regular meetings with us to provide updates,” the players wrote to Scott.

Scott’s email addressed four topics that made up the bulk of the Thursday call with 12 players: health and safety; eligibility; COVID-19 liability waivers; and opt-out due to COVID-19 concerns.

Scott wrote the conference will attempt to provide the players an opportunity to speak with the Pac-12 medical advisory committee and keep them abreast of work being done at the NCAA level to address whether athletes who opt out of the coming season will be permitted to retain eligibility.

Scott said the conference office would ensure none of the league’s schools ask athletes to sign liability waivers and reiterated Pac-12 schools were committed to honoring scholarships of players who chose not to play this season because of COVID-19 concerns.

“We will work on gathering the information listed above and providing it to you as soon as possible,” Scott wrote.

Clemson QB Lawrence says he’s completely committed to 2020 season

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Clemson quarterback Trevor Lawrence said he considered opting out of this season when he was unsure what college football would look like going forward amid the coronavirus pandemic.

However, Lawrence said Friday once he understood he’d play an 11-game season with a chance for an Atlantic Coast Conference and national championships, he decided to play his junior season.

The Heisman Trophy hopeful said he’s completely committed to this season and confident in Clemson’s ability to keep himself and his teammates safe.

Lawrence, who is the likely No. 1 overall pick in the next NFL draft should he leave college early, was 25-0 as a starter until he and Clemson fell to LSU in the national title game last January. The 6-foot-6 junior, had perhaps his poorest performance in college in the 42-25 loss to LSU. He joked how after his freshman year when he led Clemson to a championship he heard how amazing he was and since the LSU defeat, he heard how much work he has to do improve.

Pac-12 responds to football players threatening opt-outs

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The Pac-12 responded Monday to football players who have threatened to opt-out of the season because of concerns related to health and safety, racial injustice and economic rights with a letter touting the conference’s work in those areas and an invitation to meet later this week.

A letter from Pac-12 Commissioner Larry Scott, dated Aug. 3, was sent to 12 football players leading the #WeAreUnited movement. The letter was obtained by The Associated Press and first reported by Sports Illustrated.

The players say they have been communicating with more than 400 of their peers throughout the Pac-12. The group released a lengthy list of demands Sunday and said if they are not addressed they will not practice or play. The group said it reached out to the Pac-12 on Sunday to request a meeting. In the letter, Scott said he was eager to discuss their concerns.

“I will come back to you in the coming days following discussion with our members and student-athlete leaders to schedule a call for this week to discuss the matters that you have raised,” Scott wrote.

Also Monday night, Washington State coach Nick Rolovich said in a statemen t he regretted cautioning one of his players about being part of the #WeAreUnited movement. A recording of a conversation between Rolovich and receiver Kassidy Woods obtained by the Dallas Morning News revealed the coach seemingly warning the player that being involved with the group would hurt his standing with the team. Woods had called Rolovich to inform him he was opting out of the season for health reasons related to COVID-19.

“I spoke with Kassidy Woods in a private phone conversation last Saturday afternoon. This was before the #WeAreUnited group had released its letter of concerns,” said Rolovich, who is in his first season was Washington State coach. “Without knowing the concerns of the group, I regret that my words cautioning Kassidy have become construed as opposition. I’m proud of our players and all the Pac-12 student-athletes for using their platform, especially for matters they are passionate about. WSU football student-athletes who have expressed support for the #WeAreUnited group will continue to be welcome to all team-related activities, unless they choose to opt out for health and safety reasons.”

The #WeAreUnited players’ demands focused on four areas: health and safety protections, especially protocols related to COVID-19; guarding against the elimination of sports programs by schools during an economic downturn; ending racial injustice in college sports; and economic freedom and equity.

Scott addressed each area, highlighting the conference’s:

— Medical advisory committee working on COVID-19 protocols and webinars for student-athletes and their parents;

— Support for reforming NCAA rules regarding name, image and likeness compensation for college athletes;

— Recent initiatives to address racial inequities such as the formation of a social justice & anti-racism advisory group that includes student-athletes representatives.

Scott also listed 10 areas in which, he wrote, “The Pac-12 has been a leader in supporting student-athlete health and well-being …” Included were enhanced medical coverage post-eligibility; cost-of-attendance stipends added to the value of scholarship; mental health support; and the Pac-12′s support of reforming NCAA transfer rules to allow athletes more freedom to switch schools.

Pac-12 football teams are scheduled to begin preseason practices Aug. 17 and the league’s conference-only regular season is set to start Sept. 26.

Big 12 to allow teams to play 1 non-conference football game

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Two people involved with the decision say the Big 12 will permit its teams to play one nonconference football game this year to go along with their nine league contests as plans for the pandemic-altered season continued to fall into place.

The people spoke Monday night to The Associated Press on condition of anonymity because the conference was still preparing an official announcement.

The Big 12 university presidents signed off on the conference’s scheduling model, which gives schools the ability to play one nonconference game at home. The conference’s championship game is scheduled for Dec. 5, but one of the people told AP that the conference is leaving open the possibility of bumping it back a week or two.

The 10-team Big 12 already plays a nine-game, round-robin conference schedule. Unlike other Power Five conference that have switched to either exclusively (Big Ten, Pac-12 and SEC) or mostly (ACC) league games this season, the Big 12 could not add more conference games without teams playing each other more than once.

Several Big 12 teams have already started preseason practice, with Kansas and Oklahoma slated to play FCS teams on Aug. 29.

As conferences take steps toward a football season that seems to be in precarious shape, the NCAA is expected to weigh in Tuesday on fall sports other than major-college football.

The association’s Board of Governors is scheduled to meet and whether to cancel or postpone NCAA championship events in fall sports such as soccer, volleyball and lower-division football is expected to be a topic.

Only the Pac-12 has a full football schedule with matchups and dates in place among Power Five conferences. The Pac-12 will begin Sept. 26, along with the Southeastern Conference, which is still working on its new 10-game slate.

The Atlantic Coast Conference has opponents set for its 10-game conference schedule and will start the weekend of Sept. 12, but no specific game dates. The ACC has also said it will permit its teams to play one nonconference game.

The Big Ten, first to announce intentions to go conference-only this season, has yet to release a new schedule, but that could come later this week.

Now that the Power Five has declared its intentions the Group of Five conferences can start making plans and filling holes on their schedules.

American Athletic Conference Commissioner Mike Aresco has said the AAC could stick with its eight-game conference schedule and let its members plays as many of their four nonconference games as they can salvage or replace.

The Mountain West, Conference USA, Mid-American and Sun Belt conferences are likely to take similar approach.

Early Monday, Texas State from the Sun Belt announced it was moving a nonconference game against SMU up from Sept. 5 to Aug. 29.