Utah State football team players have opted out of their regular-season finale Saturday against Colorado State, citing alleged comments from university president Noelle Cockett regarding interim head coach Frank Maile's religious and cultural background.
The team issued a statement to Brett McMurphy of Stadium that began as follows:
"The Utah State football players have decided to opt out of our game against Colorado State due to ongoing inequality and prejudicial issues between the players, coaches, and the USU administration.
"On Tuesday, December 8th, the Utah State University Football Leadership Council held a zoom meeting with Noelle Cockett, President of USU, and John Hartwell, the Athletic Director. The purpose of the meeting was to have a say in the search for our new head coach. During the meeting, we voiced our support for Interim Head Coach Frank Maile.
"In response to our comments, their primary concern was his religious and cultural background. Players, stating their diverse faiths and backgrounds, then jumped to Coach Frank Maile’s defense in treating everyone with love, equality, and fairness."
USU interim head coach Frank Maile took over for Gary Anderson, who was fired after an 0-3 start. Maile has won one of his three games.
The 38-year-old Maile, who is Polynesian, is a member of The Church of Jesus Christ of Latter-day Saints. He was a defensive lineman at Utah State from 2004-2007 and worked as the team's co-defensive coordinator and defensive line coach in 2020 before his promotion.
Maile will not be the team's new head coach, as Utah State has reportedly reached an agreement with Arkansas State's Blake Anderson, per Ralph D. Russo of the Associated Press.
The team's statement to McMurphy also included allegations of "repeated discrimination" within the USU program:
"It is not the first time issues of repeated discrimination have happened. In December 2019, our head equipment manager used a racial slur against one of our African-American teammates. After disregarding the incident, pressure resurfaced to investigate in the summer of 2020. After the investigation, the administration concluded he would continue to be employed."
Per Jason Walker of the Utah Statesman, Maizee Thompson, whose partner is ex-Utah State defensive lineman Devon Anderson, levied the following allegation against Michael Bair, the athletic director for equipment operations, in July:
The statement closed with support for the new head coach and a desire for a better and more inclusive community at USU and Logan, Utah, where the school is located:
"We want our message to be clear that this has nothing to do with the hiring of Coach Blake Anderson, the recently-named head coach of the program. We are sure he is an excellent coach; we look forward to meeting him and his staff. We are highlighting the ongoing problems of inequality and want to create a better future for the community of Logan and Utah State University."
McMurphy also outlined the team's thought process and decision-making leading to its call to sit out Saturday's scheduled game:
"The team’s leadership council raised issues about Cockett’s comments regarding Maile, who is a member of The Church of Jesus Christ of Latter-day Saints. The players were so 'dumbfounded' by Cockett’s comments that a player conducted an anonymous players-only survey asking the players if they were on the zoom call and whether they were concerned about anything they heard in the meeting."
McMurphy reported that "about three-fourths of the team" that issued a response by Thursday expressed concerns regarding the alleged bias against Maile. The players notably responded on an individual basis.
USU players "unanimously voted" to sit the season's closing game following a players-only meeting. The coaching staff was made aware afterward.