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Utah State Football Players Won't Play Season Finale After President's Alleged Comments About Interim Head Coach's Faith

Utah State won't play its scheduled game against Colorado State on Saturday, the school announced Friday. The team's players reportedly voted to not play following Utah State President Noelle Cockett's alleged comments about interim head coach Frank Maile. 

Cockett allegedly made comments to Utah State Athletic Director John Hartwell about Maile's religious and cultural background while discussing the coach's candidacy for the full-time position on a Zoom call Tuesday.

Maile, a member of the Church of Jesus Christ of Latter-day Saints, is a former Utah State football player. Disturbed by the comments, one Utah State player conducted an anonymous players-only survey asking the players if they were on the Zoom call and whether they were concerned about anything discussed during the call, according to Stadium.

By Thursday, 75% of the team expressed concern over Cockett's religious bias against Maile. In a statement, players defended Maile in saying that every person should be treated "with love, equality, and fairness."

As a result, on Friday, Aggie players unanimously voted in a players-only meeting and agreed to not play the game because of Cockett's apparent bias.

The coaching staff was not aware of the players’ meeting until after its conclusion.

“I am devastated that my comments were interpreted as bias against anyone’s religious background,” Cockett said in a statement. “Throughout my professional career and, especially, as president of USU, I have welcomed the opportunity to meet directly and often with students about their experiences. Regardless of how difficult the conversations might be in the coming days, I remain committed to giving our students a voice.”

Players shared their comments in a statement to Stadium explaining why they chose to not play in Saturday's game. 

“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.

“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.

“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.”

Maile, is currently in his fifth season as an assistant at Utah State, became the team's interim coach after the program's firing of Gary Andersen following Utah State's 0-3 start. He started the 2020 season as the Aggies co-defensive coordinator and previously served as the team's interim head coach at the end of the 2018 season after Matt Wells accepted a coaching job at Texas Tech.

On Saturday, Utah State's Board of Trustees met and decided to retain an independent investigator for a review of the incident.

“We take this matter seriously and understand that facts and details matter,” Jody Burnett, chair of the Board of Trustees, said in a statement. “The players’ statement did not provide details about what was said. As a result, we will be working with an independent investigator to understand what was said during the meeting and the context for the alleged statements. Consistent with our university culture, USU is committed to listening to students, and we will handle this matter with integrity, fairness and open minds.”

Blake Anderson, the former coach at Arkansas State, resigned on Thursday and accepted the job to become Utah State’s next head coach.

Utah State (1-5) will end the season one game above last place in the Mountain West Conference. 

Colorado State (1-3) heads into the offseason having played just half of its revised schedule, having already missed three games from cancellations due to COVID-19.