Boise State Football

Chris Petersen, Art Briles in a battle of words over Sam Ukwuachu case

Washington football coach Chris Petersen said he “thoroughly apprised” Baylor coach Art Briles about the circumstances of Sam Ukwuachu’s dismissal from Boise State, long before the player’s sexual assault conviction this week.

A jury in Texas district court found the 22-year-old Ukwuachu guilty of one count of sexual assault for an incident in his Waco, Texas, apartment involving a female Baylor soccer player. Ukwuachu’s former girlfriend in Boise testified during the trial that he struck and choked her when he attended Boise State, where Petersen was the coach.

Ukwuachu, a defensive end from Pearland, Texas, started 12 games for Boise State in 2012 and was named a Freshman All-American. He wasn’t on the sideline for the Spring Game in 2013 and Petersen said Ukwuachu had “personal things he’s taking care of.” Ukwuachu returned to the program before the end of the semester but his dismissal was announced May 7, 2013.

He transferred to Baylor later that year, but never played for the Bears. He was ineligible in 2013 because of NCAA transfer rules and suspended in 2014, though Baylor never gave a reason. The sexual assault occurred in October 2013.

Briles on Friday was asked by reporters about Ukwuachu’s transfer and said he did not know the details about why the player left Boise State.

“I talked to Chris Petersen personally,” Briles said Friday morning. “No mention of anything beyond Sam being depressed and needing to come home. That was our information and that’s what you go by.”

When asked specifically whether Baylor knew of Ukwuachu’s violent past, Briles added: “No. No. That’s not true. Lord, no. No, there’s no truth. Find out who informed us and talk to them, please.”

Petersen, who coached Boise State from 2006 to 2013 before taking over at Washington last year, then released his statement that contradicted Briles.

“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,” Petersen said in a statement released to the Idaho Statesman. “In that conversation, I thoroughly apprised Coach Briles of the circumstances surrounding Sam’s disciplinary record and dismissal.”

Ukwuachu, who said the sexual encounter in Waco was consensual, was sentenced Friday afternoon to six months in county jail and put on 10 years of felony probation. He must perform 400 hours of community service.

Later in the day Friday, Briles released a statement:

“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 (Ukwuachu’s) depression. The only disciplinary action I was aware of were team-related issues, insubordination of coaches and missing practice.”

Briles also said he spoke with Ukwuachu’s high school coach.

“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,” he said in the statement.

Baylor also released a transfer form between the two athletic departments that was signed by Jenny Bellomy, the director of NCAA compliance at Boise State. The single-page document included two key questions:

• “Has this student been suspended or disqualified from your institution for disciplinary reasons?” A box is checked no, which only means that Ukwuachu wasn’t disciplined by the university, according to Boise State.

• “Would this student have been eligible had they returned to your institution?” A box is checked yes, which is a reference to Ukwuachu’s NCAA eligibility. That doesn’t mean he would have been allowed on the team, according to Boise State.

Baylor President Ken Starr on Friday called for a “comprehensive internal inquiry into the circumstances associated with the case and the conduct of the offices involved.” The review will be led by law professor Jeremy Counseller, who is a faculty athletic representative to the Big 12 and NCAA and former assistant criminal district attorney.

According to reports on and in the Waco Tribune, Baylor initially investigated the sexual assault but determined there was not enough evidence to proceed and was going to allow Ukwuachu to play before the district attorney indicted him. The school also was prepared to let Ukwuachu return to the team had he been found not guilty, his attorney told the Tribune before the trial.

Briles said Ukwuachu’s conviction is “unfortunate for everybody concerned,” and reiterated that Ukwuachu was removed from the roster before he ever played or practiced.

“Our timeline was followed by what the standards were here,” Briles said.

“When the incident happened, he’s off the roster. Never played a down for us. So it’s a very unfortunate situation for all concerned. That’s all I’ve got to say about it.”