Utah State has canceled Saturday night’s scheduled game at Colorado State because of worries raised by football players about religious discrimination in the search for a new football coach, the university said in a statement Friday.
The decision came after Aggies players told earlier Friday that they had opted out of the game because of comments allegedly made by Utah State president Noelle Cockett about interim coach Frank Maile.
The school said it would meet with players to “hear their concerns in an open dialogue so it can address them.”
“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.”
The Mountain West Conference hasn’t yet ruled the game a no-contest, saying Friday night that it would determine the official standing at a later date.
Stadium reported Friday that during a videoconference Tuesday with Cockett and Aggies athletics director John Hartwell, Utah State’s football leadership council lobbied for Maile to replace former coach Gary Andersen, who was fired after the team’s 0-3 start.
During that videoconference, according to the Stadium report, Cockett purportedly voiced concerns about Maile’s cultural and religious background. Maile, a Utah State graduate, is Polynesian and a member of the Church of Jesus Christ of Latter-day Saints. He is also the Aggies’ co-defensive coordinator and defensive line coach.
According to Stadium, an Aggies player conducted a survey that asked players how they felt about Cockett’s alleged statements. The report said that three-fourths of the Utah State players were unhappy.
During a meeting Friday morning, the players voted unanimously to not play in the game.
In a statement provided to Stadium, Utah State’s players wrote: “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.