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Federal lawsuit accuses Vols of ‘deliberate indifference’ toward sex assaults by football players

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Late last month, Florida State settled a lawsuit with a former student who alleged she’d been raped by a member of the Seminoles football program.  Two weeks later, it’s Tennessee that now finds itself under the ever-growing spotlight of sexual assaults on college campuses.

In a Title IX lawsuit filed by six UT students in federal court in Nashville Tuesday, it’s alleged, The Tennessean writes, that the university “has created a student culture that enables sexual assaults by student-athletes, especially football players, and then uses an unusual, legalistic adjudication process that is biased against victims who step forward.” Four former Volunteer student-athletes, including three football players, were identified by name in the lawsuit as having sexually assaulted the alleged victims — former basketball player Yemi Makanjuola, former football players A.J. Johnson, Michael Williams and Riyahd Jones.

A fifth UT student-athlete is identified in the lawsuit only as a current football player named “John Doe.”  One of the plaintiffs alleges that she was raped by a non-football player, also identified as a “John Doe,” at a football team party.

None of the six women involved in the suit are named.

One of the most damning portions of the lawsuit alleges that top UT officials, including current head football coach Butch Jones, were aware of incidents of sexual assault involving football players but were “indifferent” to the allegations.

UT administration (Chancellor Jimmy Cheek), athletic department (Vice Chancellor and Athletics Director) Dave Hart and football coach (Butch Jones) were personally aware (as ‘appropriate persons’ under Title IX) and had actual notice of previous sexual assaults and rapes by football players, yet acted with deliberate indifference to the serious risks of sexual assaults and failed to take corrective actions.

Additionally, the Associated Press wrote, “Tim Rogers, a former vice chancellor for student life, stepped down in 2013 ‘in protest over the violation of Title IX and the UT administration’s and athletic department’s deliberate indifference to the clear and present danger of sexual assaults by UT athletes.'”

It’s further alleged in the suit that a former UT football player, Drae Bowles, was assaulted by his Vols teammates after he had “taken Plaintiff Doe IV to the hospital the night of her assault and who had supported her decision to report the incident to the authorities.” Shortly after that November of 2014 attack, which came one day after Plaintiff Doe IV was allegedly raped, Bowles transferred out of the football program and continued his playing career at Chattanooga.

Eight months later, it was confirmed that the U.S. Department of Education’s Office of Civil Rights (OCR) had launched an investigation into a lengthy list of sexual assault allegations at UT, a handful of which involved football players.

Following an investigation by local law enforcement that began in November of 2014, Williams, a then-current UT cornerback, and Johnson, a star linebacker who had just completed his senior season, were indicted in mid-February of last year 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 last year, reports surfaced that wide receiver Von Pearson was a suspect in the investigation of an alleged rape.  Pearson has been indefinitely suspended by his head coach, and in August it was announced that Pearson would not face charges.

Those are the three that have been well-publicized and chronicled; according to The Tennessean at the time, however, there were three other Vols football players who were on the roster in 2014 who had 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 last year, Riyahd Jones, who was on the team in 2014, 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.  Ultimately, the alleged victim declined to pursue charges in the case.

In September of 2014, an unnamed football player was named in the sexual assault of a female freshman student.  An internal investigation found that no sexual assault had occurred and that instead the sex was consensual.  He remained on the team and in good standing.

In response to the federal lawsuit, the university released the following statement:

Like the many other college campuses facing the challenges of sexual assault, the University of Tennessee, Knoxville, has devoted significant time and energy to provide a safe environment for our students, to educate and raise awareness about sexual assault, and to encourage students to come forward and report sexual assault. When the University receives a report of sexual assault, we offer care and support to the person who came forward and work to investigate and resolve the matter in a timely, thorough, and equitable manner. When warranted, the University takes disciplinary action but will not do so in a manner that violates state law or the constitutional due process rights of our students.

“In the situations identified in the lawsuit filed today; the University acted lawfully and in good faith, and we expect a court to agree. Any assertion that we do not take sexual assault seriously enough is simply not true. To claim that we have allowed a culture to exist contrary to our institutional commitment to providing a safe environment for our students or that we do not support those who report sexual assault is just false. The University will provide a detailed response to the lawsuit and looks forward to doing so at the appropriate time, and in the proper manner.

Rutgers inching closer to Top 10 2021 recruiting class

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Rutgers, of all schools, is killing it on the football recruiting trail. Still.

When last we left Greg Schiano‘s Rutgers football crew, the Scarlet Knights held the No. 12 class in the 2021 team rankings. That upward move was launched by five commitments in a span of roughly a week. The highlight of the recruiting splurge was four-star linebacker Khayri Banton committing to the Big Ten school.

Tuesday, three-star wide receiver Max Patterson committed to Rutgers football as well.

With the flurry of commitments, Rutgers now holds the No. 11 2021 class in the country. Rutgers football.  Nearly a Top 10 school in recruiting.

That ranking, incidentally, puts them ahead of the likes of Georgia (No. 15), LSU (No. 16), Michigan (No. 17), Oklahoma (No. 19), Florida State (No. 24) and Auburn (No. 25), among others.

That No. 11 ranking also leaves Rutgers with the fifth-ranked football recruiting class In the Big Ten. The other four are No. 1 Ohio State, No. 7 Wisconsin, No. 9 Maryland and No. 10 Iowa.

The Scarlet Knights have never had a Top 10 recruiting class. Ever.  Or a Top 20 class, for that matter. For some perspective, the top-ranked Rutgers football recruiting class of the past two decades was No. 23 in 2012. The cycle immediately after Schiano left the school for the Tampa Bay Buccaneers, it should be noted.

Outside of that, the recruiting finishes have been decidedly pedestrian for the Scarlet Knights. Since the start of the 21st century, 18 of the Scarlet Knights’ 21 classes have finished outside of the Top 30. Of those 18, 15 finished 42nd or worse; 10 came in outside of the Top 50.

Seven of the current members of Rutgers’ Class of 2021 hail from the state of New Jersey. The other three come from Maryland, Pennsylvania and Virginia.

If Rutgers is to continue making hay on the football recruiting trail, they’ll do so in an extended dead period. Wednesday, the NCAA announced that the ban on all in-person contact between schools and prospects has been extended out through May 31. That extension, of course, is a direct result of the coronavirus pandemic.

Ed Orgeron, wife Kelly divorcing after 23 years of marriage

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Coming off a high on it, Ed Orgeron is hitting a low off the field.

According to multiple media outlets in the area, Ed Orgeron filed a petition for divorce from his wife of 23 years, Kelly Orgeron.  The petition was filed by Ed Orgeron Feb. 26, two days after the LSU head coach stated in the petition that the couple had separated.

The separation came five days after the couple’s 23rd anniversary.  It also came a little over two months after LSU claimed its first national championship since 2007.

From the Baton Rouge Advocate:

Orgeron states he is entitled to have the exclusive use and occupancy of the former matrimonial domicile in Baton Rouge, and he has no objection to Kelly Orgeron being granted exclusive use and occupancy of a home in Mandeville, “until such time as the community property is settled either by conventional agreement or judicial partition.”

Orgeron and his wife have twin sons, Parker and Cody.   Those two were born a year after the couple was married.  Tyler Spotts-Orgeron, a son from Kelly’s previous marriage, was an offensive analyst for Orgeron this past season.

Two weeks after LSU beat Clemson in the College Football Playoff championship game, Ed Orgeron agreed to a six-year, $42 million contract extension.  The new deal netted the coach a $3 million raise.

UTEP punter Mitchell Crawford set to transfer to Michigan State

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There is yet another development on the punting front for Michigan State.

Last year, Bryce Baringer placed his name into the NCAA transfer database. As we noted this week, Baringer pulled his name out of the portal, an indication that the punter has decided to remain as part of the Michigan State football team.

Around the same time, MSU released an updated roster. Conspicuously absent was the name of Jack Bouwmeester. A Michigan State official subsequently confirmed that Bouwmeester has returned to his native Australia. No reason was given for that development. It’s unclear at this point whether the move is permanent or temporary.

Whether related or not to Bouwmeester’s departure, Mitchell Crawford confirmed Tuesday to mlive.com that he has received a scholarship offer from Michigan State. Crawford, also an Aussie, would be leaving UTEP as a graduate transfer. That would allow him to use his final year of eligibility with the Spartans.

In two seasons with the Miners, Crawford averaged 39.7 yards on his 134 punts. Of those, 29 landed inside the 20-yard line. In 2018, the Queensland native earned honorable mention All-Conference USA honors.

Baringer began his collegiate career at Illinois. After taking a redshirt as a true freshman in 2017, Baringer transferred to Michigan State prior to the start of the 2018 season. Because of injuries that year to the two punters ahead of him on the depth chart, Baringer played in four games. In that action, he averaged 32.4 yards on 15 punts. Four of those punts landed inside the 20-yard line.

Baringer and Crawford are now two of four punters currently on the Michigan State roster. The others are redshirt junior walk-on Tyler Hunt and redshirt freshman walk-on Evan Morris. Hunt was the second of the two punters injured during that 2018 season. Hunt, who replaced the injured starter Jake Hartbarger that year, started five games, punting 36 times for an average of 40.1 yards per.

Oregon State’s defensive lineman Conner Warick enters transfer portal

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Oregon State, step on up as the subject of the next installment of “The Days of Our Portal Lives.”

According to 247Sports.com, Conner Warick has taken the first step in leaving Oregon State by entering his name into the transfer database. An Oregon State football official subsequently confirmed that the defensive lineman is in the portal.

Now, for what’s seemingly becoming a daily disclaimer when it comes to transfers.

As we’ve stated myriad times in the past, a player can remove his name from the portal and remain at the same school. At this point, though, other programs are permitted to contact a player without receiving permission from his current football program.

NCAA bylaws also permit schools to pull a portal entrant’s scholarship at the end of the semester in which he entered it.

Coming out of high school, Warick was a three-star signee as part of the Class of 2018 for Oregon State. He was rated as the No. 25 player regardless of position in the state of Washington.

In his two seasons at OSU, Warick didn’t make an appearance for the Beavers. The search for a better shot at playing time triggered the lineman’s decision.

Oregon State is coming off a five-win 2019 campaign in Jonathan Smith‘s second season as head football coach. That marked the program’s most wins since hitting that same number in 2014 in Mike Riley’s last season. Earlier this offseason, it was reported that OSU is working on a contract extension for Smith, who has gone 7-17 in his two seasons.