College coaches willing to take risks on players despite growing sexual assault scandals

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“Why did you let two prospects who were accused of that come onto your campus?”

That is the question posed by Gary Parrish of CBS Sports on a podcast last week, after news broke that Michigan State head coach Tom Izzo had allowed at least four players and a student assistant to remain with his program while and after they were accused of and investigated for violence against women.

“You couldn’t do it now,” Parrish continued. “If there were two recruits in the country who were accused of what Adreian Payne and Keith Appling were accused of, you could not enroll them at a University.”

And that is a beautiful sentiment, one I wish was true.

But it’s not reality.

On the same day that the ESPN published a report detailing what appears to be a system in place to cover-up sexual assaults by athletes in the Michigan State athletic department, LSU accepted a commitment from a five-star prospect that was accused of rape just over three months ago. If that player does end up enrolling at LSU, he will be the second player on that roster with a highly-publicized sexual assault allegation in his recent past.

Emmitt Williams is a five-star prospect from Florida that was, at one time or another, being recruited by the likes of Kansas, Duke and Oregon. NBC Sports broke the news that he was arrested on Oct. 18th on accusations of sexual battery and false imprisonment which stemmed from an incident that happened a week earlier. His accuser told police that Williams was at her house but that he would not let her leave, even when she tried to go pick up her friend. Williams began touching her, she said, despite the fact that she told Williams she was not interested in sex. Williams ignored that, pulled down her pants and raped her while her attempts to stop him were unsuccessful, she said.

In the arrest report it states that a friend of the victim, in the presence of police officers, had a text conversation with Williams where he acknowledged being told “no”.

Charges were filed.

They were dropped on Dec. 21st.

Williams committed to LSU on Jan. 25th.

Emmitt Williams, Orange County Incarcerations

If he eventually enrolls at LSU, he’ll team up with Kavell Bigby-Williams, a former Oregon player who played the entirety of the 2016-17 season while under investigation for forcible rape. In mid-September of 2016, Bigby-Williams, who transferred to Oregon from Gillette College in Wyoming, returned to his previous school to visit for a week. On the night of Sept. 17th, according to the police report, the victim drank whiskey and vodka and blacked from from 10 p.m. until 3:30 p.m. the next day. Her roommates, who were in the suite the night of the incident, told police that she was throwing up in a trashcan at midnight and passed out in her bed afterwards. She woke up the next morning, naked with a large bruise on her neck and soreness and bleeding in her vagina. There were dark stains on her bedsheets.

The roommates told police that Bigby-Williams admitted to having sex with the victim but that he insisted it was consensual. He had already returned to Oregon by the time police in Wyoming contacted him, and a Sports Illustrated investigation determined that Oregon failed to follow its Title IX policies during the investigation. The University, just two years earlier, was at the epicenter of a scandal that should have cost head coach Dana Altman his job, when three players were accused of a gang rape — including one player that has been under investigation for sexual assault while at Providence.

Bigby-Williams helped Oregon get to the Final Four. He was never interviewed by police in Wyoming or Oregon. He was never charged with a crime. He announced his commitment to LSU in June of this year. LSU did not make his enrollment official until August.

“The university conducted a responsible and comprehensive review before approving the transfer,” a release posted on LSU’s Athletics site read at the time, “including close coordination with Title IX officials, multiple discussions with Gillette and Oregon officials and a thorough examination of available public records.”

All of this is and was public.

If LSU head coach Will Wade or his coaching staff are surprised by any of this, they should be fired for an inability to do their job.

It’s a risk they are taking, bringing players like Williams and Bigby-Williams to their campus, and one that I’m not sure is wrong to take.

Kavell Bigby-Williams (Ronald Martinez/Getty Images)

In the eyes of the law, neither of these men committed a crime. This is still America and we are all still considered innocent until proven guilty. Sexual assaults are unbelievably difficult to prosecute because they all end up being ‘he said, she said’ cases. Proving beyond a reasonable doubt that one person is telling the truth while the other is lying is not easy. When charges are not brought in a sexual assault case, it usually means that the charges are not provable, not that prosecutors believe the person being accused is innocent.

While they are exceedingly rare, there are cases where false allegations do occur. The settlement that Dez Wells received from Xavier for their reaction to a false allegation made against him was roughly the same as what Oregon paid out to the woman that was allegedly raped by the three players in 2014.

Should a player never again allowed to be a part of a team because of an accusation that was never proven in court?

I don’t believe so.

But there has to be responsibility for those that consent to bringing a player like Williams or Bigby-Williams — or Reggie Lynch, or Brandon Austin — to campus. It’s why I believe that Altman should have been fired back in 2014. It’s why I believe that Richard Pitino should lose his job over the way that Minnesota has handled Lynch. And it’s why I believe that Wade and his coaching staff should be fired if either Williams or Bigby-Williams has anything even close to an accusation of violence against women or sexual assault while on the LSU campus.

If there are no serious repercussions for taking a risk that the kid you are bringing onto a college campus, where sexual violence is an epidemic, might actually be a serial sexual predator, then nothing is ever going to change.

College coaches that NBC Sports spoke with agreed for the most part. They were granted anonymity in exchange for honesty.

“We’ve missed out on some all-league guys because of background checks from guys in high school or transfer,” said one head coach that has reached the NCAA tournament. “We do a lot of background work.”

That coach also added that he’s stepped up the amount of effort he puts into educating his players about sexual violence on campus. His school has two seminars a year trying to educate students about the epidemic, and he has made his players read the police report from the alleged gang rape at Oregon, out loud in the locker room in front of the team.

One coach from a top 25 program that initially tried to get involved in the Williams recruitment said they would not even have been able to recruit the player once the arrest went public.

“If you were arrested for rape, I don’t trust your judgement,” said a high-major assistant coach. “I don’t want anyone associated with the word rape around my program.”

Which leads me back to Izzo.

The crux of the problems the Hall of Famer is currently facing isn’t necessarily with Payne and Appling. They were accused of sexual assault by a Michigan State student during one of their first weekends on campus as freshmen. In an interview with police, Payne said that his victim had indicated she wanted to leave, and that he could “understand how she would feel that she was not free to leave.” Neither Payne nor Appling appear to have been punished at all by the basketball program, athletic department or the University.

Keith Appling and Adreian Payne (Gregory Shamus/Getty Images)

There are questions that Izzo needs to answer about that situation. Why there was never any punishment? Why were they immediately allowed back into the program? Why didn’t the University start a Title IX investigation into the allegation until, according to Outside The Lines, a representative of the Department of Education’s Office for Civil Rights alerted them that not doing so broke federal law?

To be crystal clear, the way that was handled — by Izzo, by Mark Hollis, by the athletic department, by the school — was wrong.

But that is also old news that was a major story locally at the time that it happened. It did not draw anywhere near the national media attention it’s generating now. This happened before the scandals that plagued Baylor and Oregon and Penn State, before the #MeToo and #TimesUp movements. The very reason that those two things exist, that so many men in power are having to pay for their actions, is because it has become abundantly clear that we, as a society, did not take sexual harassment and sexual assault seriously enough for far too long. No one is denying that, but it’s fair to question whether or not we can hold Izzo to a 2018 standard for an incident that occurred in 2010.

Where Izzo may be in real trouble is in the way that Travis Walton was handled.

Walton played for the Spartans until 2009. He was a three-time captain. He spent the 2009-10 season as a student assistant with the program as he finished his degree. He told The Lima News, in a story published two days before this news broke, that he lived in Izzo’s basement that year.

In February of 2010, Walton was accused by a woman of punching her twice in the face at a bar, knocking her unconscious and giving her a concussion. A judge ruled that Walton was “OK to travel with the MSU basketball team,” according to Outside the Lines, and he was with the team when they reached the Final Four that season.

Student assistant coach Travis Walton looks on during practice prior to the 2010 Final Four (Andy Lyons/Getty Images)

That charge eventually was reduced to a civil infraction for littering, which Walton plead guilty to, but his name came up in another accusation. Walton and two players on that 2009-10 team were named in a sexual assault report given to the Michigan State athletic department and obtained by Outside The Lines. That incident occurred in April of 2010. “None of the players were reprimanded in anyway,” according to the report, although it does allege that Walton was fired. Walton told Outside The Lines that he left Michigan State after the season to pursue a pro career in Europe.

And this is Izzo’s biggest problem.

He believed in a member of his program that he had known for at least seven years. He trusted a former player, student assistant coach, a three-time captain of his program when he said that the allegation against him was a lie. That is understandable; you never want to believe the worst about a person, especially a person you care about. Hearing a judge allow that person to travel out of state while there is an investigation into those charges confirms what you already want to believe.

But Izzo also must understand that allowing someone that has been accused of that kind of violence around your program and on your campus means that you are, in part, culpable if they strike again. Walton is alleged to have struck again, possibly more than once.

You cannot control what the people you trust do in their free time.

What you can control, however, is who you trust.

Tom Izzo is finding out the hard way that he shouldn’t have trusted everyone. Just like Dana Altman should have, just like Richard Pitino has and just like Will Wade will if the players he recruited make headlines again.

No. 9 Kansas blows lead, then holds off No. 5 Texas, 88-80

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LAWRENCE, Kan. – Dajuan Harris Jr. was willing to acknowledge that Kansas was facing something rare when fifth-ranked and Big 12-leading Texas arrived at Allen Fieldhouse.

The defending national champs played like it.

Gradey Dick scored 21 points, Harris had 17 points, six rebounds and five assists, and the ninth-ranked Jayhawks held on after blowing a 14-point first-half lead to beat the Longhorns 88-80 and tighten the league race.

Kevin McCullar Jr. added 16 points, Joseph Yesufu scored 14 off the bench and KJ Adams finished with 10, helping the Jayhawks (19-5, 7-4) overcome an off night from Jalen Wilson. The league’s leading scorer at 21.5 points per game battled foul trouble and was held to just two, ending his streak of 25 straight double-figure games.

“We knew we had to come in here and get a win,” said Dick, who had the Jayhawks’ only two 3-pointers. “The big thing, just in preparation for the week, was coming out with energy. When we do that, we’re a scary team.”

The Jayhawks needed everyone’s help holding off the Longhorns’ Marcus Carr.

The Minnesota transfer, who had a game-high 29 points, kept answering Kansas baskets down the stretch. His 3-pointer got the Longhorns within 77-68 with 2:25 left, three free throws made it 78-71 with 1:31 to go, and his three-point play got the Longhorns (19-5, 8-3) within 86-80 with 23.5 seconds remaining.

Texas quickly fouled Dick at the other end, and his free throw with 18 seconds left helped to put the game away.

“It was as close to a must-win as you could have this early in the season to win the league,” Kansas coach Bill Self said. “You go down three games with seven left, you’d have to win out and get a lot of help from others. Now, we still have as hard a schedule as everybody, but we can kind of control our own destiny where if we play well, we have a shot.”

Timmy Allen finished with 18 points for the Longhorns. Sir’Jabari Rice had 12 before fouling out.

“It was their night tonight in terms of what they got done,” Texas interim coach Rodney Terry said.

The Longhorns have made a habit of overcoming double-digit deficits: 18 down to beat TCU, 12 down to beat Texas Tech and 14 down to beat No. 12 Kansas State last Saturday in a game played just down the road.

So it wasn’t that surprising when Texas dug another 14-point hole Monday night.

Just like the Longhorns did in Manhattan, though, they began to rally. Texas shook off 10 first-half turnovers to get within 42-35 by the break, then kept coming in the second half. Hunter hit a 3-pointer, Carr added a couple of buckets and it was 43-all when Self called a timeout to slow Texas’ momentum.

Unlike the Horned Frogs, Red Raiders and Wildcats, the Jayhawks rose to the challenge.

McCullar’s three-point play while they were clinging to a 49-48 lead gave them a boost, and Dick added a couple of free throws. But it was back-to-back buckets by Harris, who is known more as a distributor than as a scorer, that pushed the lead to 58-50 with about 12 minutes to go.

Texas closed within 66-60 but, after the Jayhawks pulled down two offensive boards, Dick hit another 3-pointer. And when Yesufu bookended a couple of free throws by Harris, the lead had stretched to 75-62 with 3 minutes to go.

The Jayhawks were able to fend off Carr and the Longhorns from there.

“Give those guys credit. They came in and played at a very high level,” Terry said, “and we knew that would be the case.”

BANGED-UP BIRDS

The Jayhawks were missing several backups. Zack Clemence has a hurt knee, Bobby Pettiford Jr. is dealing with a hamstring injury and Zuby Ejiofor a foot injury. Kyle Cuffe Jr. (knee) and Cam Martin (shoulder) also were out.

“I thought the bench was great. As good as they’ve been all year,” Self said. “We had nine guys we could put in the game.”

BIG PICTURE

Texas has struggled to get off to good starts this season, and it seemed the energy the Longhorns expended climbing back into Monday night’s game was missing by the end. Carr tried to carry them but he needed more help.

Kansas got the production it needed from the bench. Yesufu provided the scoring pop but big man Ernest Udeh Jr. and guard MJ Rice, both seldom-used freshmen, also provided important minutes for the Jayhawks.

UP NEXT

Texas heads home after its Sunflower State swing to play West Virginia.

Kansas has a two-game trip next with Oklahoma on Saturday and Oklahoma State.

No. 19 Miami rolls past Duke 81-59, moves to 13-0 at home

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CORAL GABLES, Fla. – Miami guard Isaiah Wong pointed to the crowd, waving his arms, asking for noise, asking for the celebration to start.

The lead, at that point, was 3-0.

Didn’t matter. From start to finish, the Hurricanes were in total control — and got a rare rout over Duke.

Norchad Omier had 17 points and 10 rebounds, Jordan Miller added 16 points and No. 19 Miami never trailed on the way to a 81-59 win over Duke on Monday night.

Wooga Poplar scored 14 and Wong scored 11 for Miami (19-5, 10-4 Atlantic Coast Conference). The Hurricanes led by as many as 26 and improved to 13-0 at home.

“That was a great performance, from start to finish,” Miami coach Jim Larranaga said. “There was a lot of energy. And all I can tell you is, everybody who came tonight’s game is invited back – because that’s the kind of environment that we’d love to have every night.”

Ryan Young and Dereck Lively II each scored 11 points for Duke (17-7, 8-5), which saw its three-game winning streak snapped. Jeremy Roach added 10 points for the Blue Devils, who were outrebounded 38-31 and committed 21 turnovers.

It was the second game this season where Duke never led, and the 22-point loss was its second-worst this season. The Blue Devils lost to N.C. State by 24 on Jan. 4.

“Congratulations to Miami. There’s a reason they haven’t lost here at home,” Duke coach Jon Scheyer said. “They’re really good. They obviously had it clicking on all cylinders right away.”

It was the second-biggest Miami victory margin in the series between the schools, topped only by the Hurricanes’ 90-63 win over then-No. 1 Duke on Jan. 23, 2013. Miami also enjoyed huge edges in points off turnovers (23-9), second-chance points (24-9) and fast-break points (17-7).

And Miami got payback for a 68-66 loss at Duke earlier this season.

“We had something to prove,” Miller said. “They beat us last time. We were revved up for this game and we got it done.”

Duke fans started leaving with 4:24 left and Miami up by 26, the Hurricanes’ student section serenading them as they departed.

Miami ran out to a 13-1 lead and stretched it to 34-17 later in the first half, putting Duke in unfamiliar territory quickly. The Blue Devils had trailed by more than 15 in just two other games – by 29 to N.C. State, and by 19 to Purdue.

“When you have 21 turnovers, you can’t expect yourself to have a good game,” Lively said.

It was 40-26 at the half. When Miami opened the second half on a 9-0 run to build a 23-point lead, the outcome quickly became academic.

“The crowd fueled us to keep it going,” Larranaga said.

BIG PICTURE

Duke: Maybe it’s too difficult to quickly reset after a rivalry game. This is the third consecutive year the Blue Devils have lost the game immediately following their first matchup of the season with North Carolina. “It’s tough. It’s not easy. But it’s what you have to do. … It’s part of playing in the ACC,” Scheyer said.

Miami: The Hurricanes remained one of six teams from major conferences to be unbeaten at home – the others being Alabama, UCLA, Providence, Iowa State and Duke. Across Division I, 20 teams entered Monday with perfect home marks.

POLL IMPLICATIONS

Miami has been in the poll for nine straight weeks, the program’s longest such run since being ranked in each of the first 11 polls of the 2017-18 season – and figures to stay there if it tops Louisville on Saturday. Duke has been out of the AP Top 25 for the last four weeks; the Blue Devils were two slots away in the poll released Monday, behind only Florida Atlantic on the “also receiving votes” list.

BARRY HONORED

Basketball Hall of Famer Rick Barry, Miami’s all-time leading scorer, was presented with a customized basketball during a first-half stoppage of play.

UP NEXT

Duke: Visits No. 8 Virginia on Saturday.

Miami: Hosts Louisville on Saturday.

Minnesota-Illinois postponed for COVID-19 in Gophers program

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MINNEAPOLIS – Minnesota’s game at Illinois that was scheduled for Tuesday has been postponed because of COVID-19 health and safety protocols within the Gophers’ program.

The announcement was made Monday by Minnesota, which didn’t specify how many players would have been unable to play.

The Gophers (7-15, 1-11) had only eight available scholarship players for their last game, an 81-46 loss to Maryland on Saturday. Dawson Garcia (ankle) has missed the last four games, and Braeden Carrington (leg) has missed the last six. Parker Fox and Isaiah Ihnen will not play this season while recovering from knee injuries.

The game will be rescheduled by the Big Ten, with input from both schools.

Minnesota is next scheduled to host Iowa on Sunday. Illinois (16-7, 7-5) will host No. 24 Rutgers on Saturday.

Purdue stays No. 1 in AP Top 25; NC State in at No. 22

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Purdue’s unquestioned grip on No. 1 in The Associated Press poll is gone after a weekend loss. That didn’t stop the Boilermakers from remaining at the top anyway.

The Boilermakers earned 38 of 62 first-place votes in the poll to remain at No. 1 for a third straight week and seventh time this season. Purdue was the unanimous choice last week, the first for any team this season, before falling at Indiana over the weekend for only its second loss.

The Boilermakers (22-2, 11-2) have a leading candidate for national player of the year in Zach Edey and KenPom’s No. 1-ranked offense (121.1 points scored per 100 possessions) to go with a top-25 defense. But they got down big, committed 16 turnovers and allowed the Hoosiers — up to No. 18 this week — to shoot nearly 53% in a 79-74 loss Saturday.

“When we go to Zach and we make some perimeter shots, the defense gets better sometimes when the offense flows,” Purdue coach Matt Painter said at his postgame news conference. “And you can’t do that. You can always rebound, you can always take care of the ball, you can always make your free throws, those things there.”

The loss meant Houston collected 22 first-place votes as it rose one spot to No. 2, followed by No. 3 Alabama and No. 4 Arizona in each claiming one.

THE TOP TIER

Texas jumped five spots to No. 5, shooting past Tennessee, which fell four spots to No. 6 after losing last week at Florida.

UCLA, Virginia, Kansas and Marquette rounded out the top 10, with Shaka Smart’s Golden Eagles cracking the top 10 for the first time since 2019.

RISING

The Longhorns’ jump marked the biggest of the week, followed by Marquette and Miami each rising four spots. No. 13 Xavier, No. 15 Saint Mary’s and No. 21 UConn joined Indiana in each moving up three positions.

In all, 12 teams rose from last week’s rankings.

SLIDING

Kansas State took the week’s biggest tumble, falling five spots to No. 12 after losing at Kansas and at home to Texas last week. No. 16 Gonzaga joined Tennessee in falling four spots after its overtime loss at Saint Mary’s.

In all, nine teams fell from last week’s rankings.

STATUS QUO

Purdue was the only team to remain in the same position this week.

WELCOME

North Carolina State earned its first AP Top 25 ranking in four years, checking in at No. 22.

The Wolfpack (19-5, 9-4 Atlantic Coast Conference) spent six weeks in the poll during the 2018-19 season. N.C. State already has surpassed the win total for each of the last two seasons and is in contention for the program’s first NCAA Tournament berth since 2018.

Creighton and Rutgers joined N.C. State as this week’s new additions to the poll, though both were ranked earlier this season. The Bluejays were No. 9 in the preseason poll and peaked at No. 7 before falling out by mid-December, while the Scarlet Knights spent a week at No. 23 in mid-January.

FAREWELL (FOR NOW)

Florida Atlantic (No. 19), Clemson (No. 20) and Auburn (No. 25) fell out of this week’s poll.

CONFERENCE WATCH

The Big 12 leads all leagues with six ranked teams, including No. 11 Iowa State, No. 14 Baylor and No. 17 TCU. The Big East is next with five ranked teams, followed by the Big Ten and ACC with three each.

The Pac-12, Southeastern and West Coast conferences each have two ranked teams, while the American Athletic and Mountain West each have one.

Indiana reaches No. 2 in women’s AP Top 25; South Carolina still No. 1

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South Carolina beat a top opponent to remain No. 1 in the women’s poll and now has a showdown with another one looming this weekend.

The Gamecocks (23-0) topped then- No. 5 UConn 81-77 to remain unbeaten and stay the unanimous choice atop the poll from the 28-member national media panel. After facing Auburn, South Carolina will play No. 3 LSU in a matchup of the last two unbeatens in Division I women’s college basketball.

Dawn Staley’s team has won 29 consecutive games and has been No. 1 in the poll for 33 consecutive weeks. That’s one week short of tying the Huskies for the third-longest streak atop the poll. Only UConn (51 weeks) and Louisiana Tech (36) have had longer runs at No. 1.

While South Carolina has had a stranglehold on No. 1 for more than a year, Indiana is making its first appearance ever at No. 2 after Stanford lost to Washington.

“I’m going to relish this for a minute, knowing where the program was to where it is,” Indiana coach Teri Moren said. “We’ve made a lot of history since we’ve been here in our nine seasons and it’s one of the more historical things we’ve been able to accomplish. Give our players credit, I don’t want to discount what a big achievement this is. We’re more than humbled to be No. 2.”

Indiana has won 10 straight since suffering its lone loss of the season to Michigan State. The Hoosiers have a tough stretch coming up, starting with a home game against No. 5 Iowa. Indiana, which hadn’t been ranked higher than fourth, then plays No. 13 Ohio State and 12th-ranked Michigan.

“That’s why we take it one game at a time, but you understand the magnitude of what’s ahead of us. I tell the kids all the time we’re in control of our own destiny,” Moren said.

LSU remained at No. 3 after close wins over Tennessee, Georgia and Texas A&M. The Tigers have a week to prepare for the Gamecocks.

UConn moved up one spot to fourth after its close loss to the Gamecocks and Iowa was fifth.

The Cardinal fell to sixth with Utah, Maryland, Duke and Notre Dame rounding out the top 10. The Blue Devils beat the Irish to take over sole possession of first in the ACC and vault up six spots in the poll. It’s Duke’s best ranking since the team finished the 2017 season ranked ninth.

FALLING CYCLONES

It was a rough week for Iowa State, which lost to Kansas by one point and Baylor by six. The Cyclones fell nine spots in the poll from 12th to 21st.

RE-ENTRY

Colorado came back into the poll at No. 25 after beating Oregon and Oregon State over the weekend. The Buffaloes were ranked for four weeks before falling out last week. Middle Tennessee dropped out of the poll after losing both its games last week.