Last Thursday, a Waco jury found Baylor football player Sam Ukwuachu guilty of sexual assault. Since then, the two universities that had him on their teams—first Boise State, then Baylor, which took him as a transfer—haven’t bothered themselves with much public reflection. There have been no apologies, no candid moments of regret, instead mostly canned statements and a pledge by Baylor to investigate its lackadaisical investigation because, as Roger Goodell’s NFL has shown us, there’s no better way to further mangle a disaster than with an independent investigation.
That Baylor’s president and chancellor is Kenneth Starr only makes the jokes that much more obvious.
So it’s worth noting how Baylor and Boise State have spent the days following Ukwuachu’s conviction—each vaguely trying to blame the other. On Friday Briles gave reporters an emphatic denial, which all but said to go ask Boise State why this is their fault. Ukwuachu transferred to Baylor from Boise State in 2013 after being dismissed from the Broncos with no explanation given to reporters at the time.
When asked specifically if Boise State had informed Baylor of Ukwuachu’s disciplinary record, Briles was emphatic in his denial.
“No. No. That’s not true,” Briles said. “Lord, no. No, there’s no truth. Find out who informed us and talk to them, please.”
Reporters reached out to Chris Petersen, Boise State’s coach at the time Ukwuachu was on the team. He gave this statement to ESPN, which sure implies that some information got passed to Baylor. Emphasis added is mine:
After Sam Ukwuachu was dismissed from the Boise State football program and expressed an interest in transferring to Baylor, I initiated a call with coach Art Briles. In that conversation, I thoroughly apprised Coach Briles of the circumstances surrounding Sam’s disciplinary record and dismissal.
Baylor responded by issuing a copy of Ukwuachu’s transfer information request form. The paperwork indicates that he wasn’t suspended from his prior institution, but this is far from an exonerating document because it doesn’t address his status with the football team when he asked to transfer.
At the same time, Baylor issued a statement from Briles in which the coach claimed that Petersen told him something but not everything. Emphasis added is mine:
I was contacted by Coach Petersen at Boise State in spring 2013 and he told me he had a player from Texas who needed to get closer to home and that he thought our program would be a good spot for him. I know and respect Coach Petersen and he would never recommend a student-athlete to Baylor that he didn’t believe in. In our discussion, he did not disclose that there had been violence toward women, but he did tell me of a rocky relationship with his girlfriend which contributed to his depression. The only disciplinary action I was aware of were team-related issues, insubordination of coaches and missing practice.
In addition, I talked with Tony Heath, his high school coach, who gave us a great recommendation.
As required with any transfer to Baylor, Boise State acknowledged that he was not suspended due to any institutional disciplinary reasons and further that he was eligible for competition if he chose to return to Boise State.
With the ball again in Boise State’s court, the university issued a statement Tuesday. Here’s that statement, as posted online by the Idaho Statesman. Emphasis added is mine.
The incidents and factors that contributed to Sam Ukwuachu’s dismissal from the Boise State football team had nothing to do with accusations of any sexual assaults or with accusations that he physically assaulted any women. However, federal laws protecting privacy prohibit Boise State from releasing information about what did result in his dismissal from the Boise State University football team.
Boise State University never received any reports nor had any knowledge of Sam Ukwuachu being involved in any accusations of sexual assault before or during his time at Boise State.
In widely reported testimony from the Aug. 20 Texas trial, Ukwuachu’s former girlfriend stated Ukwuachu hit and choked her while they were students at Boise State. This information about their relationship was not reported to Boise State when the two were students here. While neither student is currently enrolled at Boise State, the University has requested a transcript of the testimony and will begin a Title IX inquiry immediately based on this testimony about a potential physically abusive relationship between the two former students. That inquiry, like all such inquiries, will not be subject to public records requests for privacy reasons.
The Family Educational Rights and Privacy Act of 1974 (FERPA) is a federal law restricting the ability of an institution of higher education to release student information without their specific written permission. Nevertheless, an exception exists for the release of information where a validly issued subpoena is produced. University officials coordinated with McLennan County prosecuting attorneys, releasing records to them pursuant to a valid subpoena, as required by FERPA. Those records, despite having been released pursuant to subpoena, remain protected, and FERPA prohibits Boise State from releasing even those that have become part of the public record in the trial. In addition to FERPA, the Health Insurance Portability and Accountability Act restricts Boise State from releasing certain information about students as well.
Notably, the university denies knowing of violence in Ukwuachu’s relationship with his then-girlfriend, who took the stand in Waco and described how he had choked and punched her. But like every statement issued so far in this ongoing travesty, this one too raises more questions than it answers. While it specifically denies being aware of sexual or domestic violence, it doesn’t talk about other forms of violence the university might have known about—and documents released to prosecutors and obtained by reporters indicate Boise State knew quite a bit. According to Texas Monthly, some notes from Boise State indicate the program was aware that Ukwuachu would get “verbally abusive” over small things and “note that the woman he lived with acknowledged that she would ‘probably not’ admit it if the abuse were physical.”
Documents posted online by the magazine show an assistant Boise State athletic director outlining a night when Ukwuachu got drunk, put his fist through a window, and had others concerned enough that Ukwuachu’s girlfriend was told to stay away from the home. The emails also show assistant athletic director Marc Paul noting at various points that has either spoken with “C. Petersen” or would speak with “C. Petersen.” The emails are below:
And later on Tuesday came, in that great college football tradition, anonymous sources ready to pour fuel on someone else’s fire. Two “former Florida athletic department officials” told Sports Illustrated’s Campus Crush that Florida had considered taking him but “decided against it after a Boise State athletic department employee detailed Ukwuachu’s troubles with a girlfriend.”
“There was no way,” one of the former Florida employees told The Inside Read of Ukwuachu. “[Muschamp] wouldn’t touch him.”
... Ukwuachu also wasn’t completely forthcoming with Florida about his relationship with his former girlfriend, the former Gators athletic department employee said. But the Boise State athletic department employee was clear about Ukwuachu’s issues, according to the former Florida staffer.
Said the ex-Florida official: “There was absolutely no doubt.”
So, let’s sum up. Boise State maintains it had no reports of sexual assault involving Ukwuachu. There are documents indicating they knew about other types of violence involving him and his girlfriend, and had concerns that, if there was violence in Ukwuachu’s relationship, the girlfriend wouldn’t admit it. Boise State’s former coach says he “thoroughly apprised” Baylor of why Ukwuachu was dismissed. Baylor’s coach says that “thorough appraisal” left out any violence. But anonymous Florida sources say Boise State sure as hell told them about it. And now Boise State and Baylor both have invoked FERPA—that favorite legal tool of universities in crisis mode looking for an excuse to not address legitimate questions.
Lost in all the finger-pointing and statement-issuing is what this is all about in the first place. An FBS football player has been convicted of raping a fellow student. Ukwuachu has been sentenced to 180 days in a county jail, 10 years felony probation, and a lifetime as a registered sex offender. The woman who said he raped her has been diagnosed with PTSD and said the attack left her fearful of all men, including her own father and brother. “At times, I want to cry a tsunami,” she said, per the Waco Tribune-Herald. “Not a river. Rivers are too calm and too peaceful.”
And Boise State and Baylor are scrambling to make it look like the other school is at fault, without admitting what either knew about Ukwuachu—and sealing their records to make sure no one else can ever find out. Neither has even gotten close to anything that looks like an expression of regret, surely on the advice of their lawyers, which only reinforces what mattered most to them—in 13 games played, Ukwuachu had 35 tackles, 4.5 sacks, 7 tackles for loss, and 3 fumble recoveries. As they say in football, he had tremendous upside. Everything else was just a distraction.
Top images via Associated Press