Update on Colorado State investigation

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The ongoing investigation into Colorado State's football program is nearing its conclusion, and an announcement is expected to be released by the end of this week, sources told FootballScoop on Wednesday.

Colorado State hired Husch Blackwell, the same firm that conducted an investigation into Iowa's football program, to examine the culture of Rams football, and sources told FootballScoop that the firm's report has now been discussed with CSU administration.

"The university remains 100% committed to addressing all findings of the investigation after it is completed,'' Colorado State spokesman Mike Hooker told the Coloradoan last week. "We will make the full report available to the public as soon as possible and, after we have the opportunity to review the report, we will determine what remedial actions we will pursue in response."

Colorado State launched the investigation following a report by the Coloradoan that alleged a cover-up of COVID-19 cases within the program. The paper later found allegations of mistreatment of Black student-athletes and verbal abuse by coaches.

Rams AD Joe Parker ordered an indefinite pause of all football-related activities within the program.

The Mountain West would postpone the football season three days later due to the coronavirus pandemic.

"Effective immediately, and for the best interests of our student-athletes, I am pausing all football-related activities indefinitely," Parker said at the time. "This includes practices, workouts, and team meetings. I have also asked President McConnell to expand the independent investigation she announced on Tuesday to include a comprehensive review of our athletic department and football program specifically related to allegations of racism and verbal abuse. While we have been working hard towards playing football this fall, the holistic well-being of our student-athletes is our unequivocal top priority. We must and will address these allegations before we focus on playing football."

However, Parker allowed the team to return to practice last week after the Mountain West announced it will resume its football season on Oct. 24. The Rams will open their season at home versus New Mexico two and a half weeks from today.

Sources indicated the report is expected to find little to no meaningful findings against head coach Steve Addazio. The report is expected to detail mistakes made or wrongdoing by a small number of football staffers, but it is not anticipated to derail the program, sources said.

As always, stay tuned to The Scoop for the latest.

Update> Colorado State has released the report. In short, it does not appear any meaningful change will come from this investigation.

Full report is available here.

The following is the concluding portion of the report:

One witness alleged that Head Coach Addazio attempted to interfere with the investigation and influence their testimony. According to the witness, Head Coach Addazio told staff that they are employed in the football program “because of his good graces” and “during this investigation, I expect absolute loyalty.” The witness also alleged that Senior Associate Head Coach White was complicit, posting the Ram logo and phrase “absolute loyalty” on social media to send the message “we expect you to protect us” to staff and players. According to the witness, Senior Associate Coach White also commented, “We’re fighting for our lives” during a staff meeting, which he interpreted to mean the coaches know they are guilty of wrongdoing. The witness also alleged that Head Coach Addazio explicitly instructed the team videographer to delete practice videos from the server in order to destroy evidence of the team’s violation of the COVID-19 protocols.

Head Coach Addazio denied attempting to interfere with the investigation in any way. In response to these allegations, Head Coach Addazio stated that he instructed all members of his coaching staff to cooperate with the investigation and to respond truthfully. Head Coach Addazio believed that he complied with and exceeded all of the University’s COVID-19 protocols.

In response to this specific allegation, we requested practice footage from July 27, July 28, and July 29, 2020. The Athletic Department provided the footage and we reviewed the footage to verify that the footage was not destroyed.

A second witness alleged that Athletic Director Parker made coordinated efforts to “drum up support” during the investigation. According to the witness, Athletic Director Parker also advised staff not to discuss the investigation, which he and his colleagues found threatening. Both witnesses also remarked upon President McConnell’s praise for the Athletic Department’s leadership during the Athletic Department’s fall semester inaugural meeting on August 25, 2020.10 The NCAA requires college and university presidents to deliver an annual message to their athletic department employees prior to the start of athletic competitions. President McConnell attended and provided opening remarks at the departmental staff meeting in compliance with NCAA requirements. Although President McConnell does not specifically mention this specific investigation, two witnesses perceived her comments as “extremely tone-deaf,” inconsistent with the ongoing investigation, and a “slap in the face.”

During her introductory remarks, President McConnell acknowledged that it was a stressful time within the athletic department but praised the Athletic Director Parker and the rest of the leadership team. President McConnell also expressed to the staff that she expected them to follow rules and to conduct themselves ethically. 10 According to a transcript of President McConnell’s remarks provided by one of the witnesses, she made the following statement: “I want to give your team a shout out. Joe has just, is just a remarkable partner for me. I’m really, really fortunate to have him as the athletic director. Steve Cottingham has been also incredibly helpful. Shalini is amazing, in terms of the compliance piece, and I feel really supported by the athletic department and the professionals that are in place, and I want to share that with you because during times of stress, there’s often questions about leadership, and I want to make sure that you know that you have really good leadership. I hope you don’t mind me saying all of this, Joe. I didn’t prepare you for public acclaim, but you deserve it.”

Conclusion

Most student-athletes who participated in the investigation reported feeling safe during team activities and believed that coaching and training staff made their best efforts to implement and enforce the University’s return-to-sport protocols. While numerous witnesses expressed some degree of dissatisfaction or concern about aspects of the protocols, those concerns were predominately related to communication, consistency, or testing policies rather than intentional non-compliance with the protocols. There is no dispute that the football team initially incurred the highest number of positive test results among student-athletes and some members of the team did not always strictly adhere to the protocols, especially outside of team activities. However, most witnesses with direct knowledge of the team’s day-to-day activities observed the coaching staff providing consistent encouragement to comply with the protocols. Most members of the football program believed Head Coach Addazio and his coaching staff took the protocols seriously and did not threaten or pressure players to hide symptoms or participate while feeling unwell.