By Associated Press - Monday, December 14, 2020

LOGAN, Utah (AP) - The Utah State University board of trustees announced the launch of an independent investigation to review allegations about inappropriate comments that stemmed from a conversation between the university president, athletics director and members of the football team.

The board met on Saturday to address concerns raised by student-athletes related to comments allegedly made during a Zoom meeting on Dec. 8 with President Noelle Cockett and Athletics Director John Hartwell, The Herald Journal reported.

The meeting was not recorded by the university.

The team allegedly expressed concern that their input was not sought during the hiring of new head football coach Blake Anderson, according to a statement by the players. Some of the athletes were in favor of interim head coach Frank Maile, who was passed over for the job.

Cockett and Hartwell met with the team on Dec. 12 before the official hiring announcement was made public. A statement issued by the players suggested one or both of the administrators in that meeting made references to Maile’s “religious and cultural background.”

Maile is of Polynesian descent and is a member of the Church of Jesus Christ of Latter-day Saints.

The school had canceled a scheduled football game on Saturday with Colorado State University after a boycott by players after the meeting.

University spokesman Tim Vitale told The Journal that there is no recording of the Zoom call but that school officials wish one existed because they believe it would put the situation in a different light.

“We take this matter seriously and understand that facts and details matter,” Board of Trustee Chair Jody Burnett said in a statement on Saturday. “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.”

Hartwell did not immediately respond to a voicemail left by The Associated Press on Monday. But Vitale returned the call saying the university and athletics department would not be making a further statement until the review is completed.

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