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Sports: Texas Tech athletics report: Progress in welfare, but issues with football team rules, culture

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Since an investigation by USA TODAY Sports and The Intercollegiate led to the firing of Texas Tech’s women’s basketball coach in August 2020 followed by the forced resignation of its softball coach the next month, the school has taken numerous steps “designed to support the physical and mental health and well-being of its students, including its student-athletes,” according to a report from a law firm retained by the school to conduct a review of the athletics department.

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But the report – released late Wednesday afternoon after more than a year’s worth of work – also found ongoing problems, including specific issues with the football, women’s basketball and men’s golf teams.

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►In football: Based on a review of various Texas Tech teams’ specific rules in place for 2020-21 and 2021-22 school years, the report from the firm Holland & Knight said that the football team’s rules contain a “ ‘Date Rape and Social Policy’ that should be carefully reviewed and edited” by the school’s Title IX office, as well as “outdated and troubling language’’ on how players should handle team issues.

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►In a section related to diversity and inclusion, the report also stated: “In end of year surveys, a football student-athlete used the derogatory term ‘no homo’ in his athletics end-of-season comment sections, clearly indicating that he was comfortable using the term within Athletics. Football was the one program where staff and student-athletes stated that student-athletes would not feel safe to share their LGBTQIA status.”

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►In women’s basketball: The team rules, according to the report, “impose yearlong curfews unrelated to team travel or contest preparation, prohibit players from having guests in their residences after curfew, and state that members of the coaching staff may conduct random curfew checks at player residences.”

►In men’s golf and football: The report found team rules that were in place in 2020-21 “described conditioning punishments for failure to meet certain team expectations and were not in alignment” with athletics department policy or NCAA medical recommendations that "exercise should never be used for punitive purposes” in athletics.

In addition, the report said these rules “were also in conflict with the medical and strength and conditioning staff’s statements in interviews that conditioning punishments were not permitted at Texas Tech.” The report said that the firm had found that this had occurred “with oversight for the punishment assigned in at least one instance to a junior member of the strength and conditioning staff.”

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The report said that athletics director Kirby Hocutt stated that the two teams’ rules no longer contain these provisions.

The report detailed changes and education efforts the school has made in areas including athletes' ability to report problems to athletics and school administrators, coaches' use of data from wearable biofeedback devices, the role of religion in team activities and its medical, mental health and nutritional support of athletes.

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It listed 14 "concrete steps" that the school had taken during the law firm's year-plus review. "The report recognizes that we have already taken and continue to take the necessary steps to support our student-athletes," school president Lawrence Schovanec said in a statement. "As we continue to implement the report’s additional suggestions, I am confident that Texas Tech will remain at the forefront in meeting our student-athletes’ health and well-being needs."

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The report indicated the existence of potentially problematic rules with other teams. The women’s basketball rules were cited as an example after the report stated that teams other than the football team “have incorporated rules that impose restrictions on student-athletes that are not enforceable, i.e., rules that prohibit the sharing of scholarship information, or place restrictions on players that are not reasonably related to the student-athlete’s athletics participation.”

The report did not name any of the teams’ coaches. In the case of the football team, it referred only to “the former football head coach” and “the former staff.” Matt Wells was fired as the team’s head coach on Oct. 25.

Athletics department spokesman Robert Giovannetti said by text message Wednesday night: “This matter had no basis on Matt’s termination.”

While the school has hired former Baylor assistant coach Joey McGuire to replace Wells, the school’s athletics website shows Wells’ assistants continuing in their roles. And on Wednesday, the school announced that offensive coordinator Sonny Cumbie, who has been serving as interim head coach, will be retained by McGuire.

Wells, who was hired by Texas Tech in late November 2018, had a 13-17 overall record with the school (7-16 in Big 12 Conference play). During a news conference after his firing was announced, Hocutt said Wells is "a very good man" and one "who always operates with integrity and character. … Matt Wells did a lot of things right. The performance on the field did not match our expectations.”

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According to the report, the football team’s rules provisions that “had not yet been addressed as of the date of this report,” which was dated Nov. 23, had language “directing players to ‘always keep all football business [i]nside the Football Family,’ and to avoid being ‘a locker room lawyer,’ a term commonly used to describe players that provide advice to other athletes about their individual rights. The rules further state that, ‘Locker room Lawyers Will Not Last!’ and ‘No One Will Listen To You.’ ”

The report said that the team’s “Date Rape and Social Policy” read, in part:

“Being a college football student-athlete automatically puts you on display to the public regardless of the situation, therefore, think and be a class individual at all times. Studies have shown that one-third of sexual attacks on college campuses have involved student-athletes. These crimes are punishable by law and up to 30 years in prison. Take time to think before you act. Do not put yourself in a No-Win situation.”

The policy, tells the players to keep in mind a series of seven statements, including:

“Believe that NO means NO!”

“An individual never owes you sex – EVER!!!”

“Never initiate sexual intercourse or sexual acts if the woman is intoxicated or passed out.”

“Any sexual assaults to any individual will not be tolerated.”

The policy adds: “Alcohol and drugs were a factor in over 75% of rapes and sexually violent acts on campus. In a court of law, this will fall under 'Rape'.”

The report says that the athletics department should “review the teams [sic] rules carefully and remove these provisions that are unenforceable, outdated, or otherwise inconsistent with Texas Tech’s policies and procedures designed to support student-athlete well-being. Revising a problematic team rule, however, will not address the restriction unless the team culture behind the rule is also addressed.”

And among its separate recommendations, the report says school officials should “Meet with the football team, coaches, and sport-specific staff to address directives put in place by the prior coaching staff not to speak with others outside the program about the program.”

This article originally appeared on USA TODAY: Texas Tech athletics report: Progress in welfare, but issues with football team rules, culture

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