It is the elephant in the room, and not just at the Cactus Bowl, but around college football. Sexual assault and violence against women is a major issue in the sport, many still handling it incorrectly.
In the last two weeks, Minnesota considered boycotting the Holiday Bowl after players believed there was a lack of due process in the suspension of 10 teammates following a sexual assault investigation, and a shocking tape of Oklahoma running back Joe Mixon punching a woman was released.
This spring, three Boise State players were expelled or suspended after a Title IX investigation. None had their sentences repealed, and they are no longer with the program. Coach Bryan Harsin said he believes the school has been proactive in preventing and punishing acts of violence against women.
“You see it, you read about it. What do you do with that? You learn from it,” Harsin said. “Take what’s happened somewhere else and you apply it, try to learn from it and make it better.”
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Boise State and Baylor, facing off in the Cactus Bowl on Tuesday (8:15 p.m., ESPN), have never played, but have one obvious connection. Sam Ukwuachu played for Boise State in 2010-11 before being kicked off the team.
He transferred to Baylor, but never played. In August 2015, he was convicted of sexual assault for an incident that took place in Waco, Texas, two years prior. He served two months in jail and was given 10 years probation.
How Baylor responded to the Ukwuachu case, along with other allegations, led to coach Art Briles being fired in May, and the school’s athletic director and president both resigning.
Ukwuachu, who filed an appeal this summer, has not spoken publicly since being released, and a message left for his attorney was not returned. Asked about Ukwuachu, Boise State senior defensive tackle Elliot Hoyte, his former roommate, declined to address specifics.
“I don’t think that’s anything I should be focusing on coming toward this game, anything I need to talk about right now,” Hoyte said.
Harsin said stopping violence against women is discussed soon after newcomers arrive on campus. He also realizes it is something that starts at the top, and coaches are part of that.
“I don’t know how much it’s changed as far as the awareness of it, because ever since I’ve been a part of this program, it’s been a topic,” Harsin said. “The awareness from everybody now, it’s so much bigger on campuses, which it should be. ... It’s also something that’s very concerning, as well.”
In Baylor’s case, the mishandling not only left the school’s leadership teetering, but the team has dealt with the fallout. None of the current players on the team, which has lost six in a row, were part of the allegations, but simply being Baylor football players has brought negative connotations.
“It’s been more than just a long football season, long summer and a long spring,” Baylor senior wide receiver Lynx Hawthorne said. “I’d be lying if I said it was easy to just ignore all of it. People looked forward to seeing us take a fall. ...
“You always look at a positive way to look at things, but I’m still searching for that reason.”
Cactus Bowl: Boise State vs. Baylor
▪ Time: 8:15 p.m. Tuesday
▪ Where: Chase Field, (40,400, grass, home of baseball’s Arizona Diamondbacks), Phoenix
▪ TV: ESPN (Rece Davis, Joey Galloway, David Pollack, Molly McGrath)
▪ Radio: KTIK 93.1 FM, KBOI 670 AM (Bob Behler, Pete Cavender)
▪ Tickets: $40-$115, available at BroncoSports.com/tickets, by phone at 208-426-4737 or the Boise State ticket office
▪ Vegas line: Boise State by 7 (over/under is 67)
▪ Coaches: Boise State, Bryan Harsin (31-8, third year; 38-13, fourth year overall); Baylor, Jim Grobe (6-6, first year; 116-121-1, 20th year overall)
▪ 2016 records: Boise State 10-2, Baylor 6-6
▪ Key stats: Boise State’s two losses this season were by a combined nine points; Baylor has lost six straight games by a combined 262-157 points.
▪ Bowl records: Boise State 11-5 (won six of past seven), Baylor 11-11 (lost four of past seven)
▪ Series: First meeting
▪ Weather: Chase Field has a retractable roof, which is expected to be open for pre-game activities and closed for the game. Tuesday’s forecast calls for sun and a high of near 70 and a low in the mid-40s.