Dec. 11 (UPI) — Utah State has canceled Saturday’s game against Colorado State because of concerns voiced by players about religious discrimination in the school’s search for a new football coach, the university said Friday.
The cancellation was announced shortly after Aggies players revealed their decision to opt out of the regular-season finale because of alleged comments made by Utah State president Noelle Cockett regarding interim head coach Frank Maile.
The school said it will meet with the student-athletes 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 Friday. “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 confirmed the cancellation Friday night, but the conference didn’t rule the game a no-contest. The MWC said it would determine the official standing of the game at a later date.
Stadium reported Friday that Cockett voiced concerns about Maile’s cultural and religious background during a conference call earlier this week. Cockett’s alleged comments came after Utah State’s football leadership council lobbied for Maile to replace former head coach Gary Andersen, who was fired after the Aggies’ 0-3 start.
Maile, who is a Utah State graduate, is Polynesian and a member of the Church of Jesus Christ of Latter-day Saints. He was the Aggies’ co-defensive coordinator and defensive line coach before his promotion.
After Tuesday’s conference call, a Utah State player conducted an anonymous survey that asked players if they were concerned about Cockett’s alleged statements, according to Stadium. The report said that three-fourths of the Aggies players expressed concerns.
The survey led to another meeting Friday morning, which ended in the players voting unanimously to not play this weekend against Colorado State.
In a statement provided to Stadium, Utah State 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.
“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.”
Former Arkansas State coach Blake Anderson resigned on Thursday to become Utah State’s next head coach. Aggies players said their message isn’t related to the hiring of Anderson.
“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,” the players wrote. “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, 38, won one of his three games as the Aggies’ interim coach. Utah State concludes the 2020 regular season with a 1-5 record.