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Sam Ukwuachu, Baylor Football Player Convicted of Sexual Assault; Art Briles Has Questions to Answer

Baylor's Sam Ukwuachu was convicted of sexual assault and sentenced to prison. There are questions as to how he was allowed at Baylor to begin with.

What would have been an otherwise now-routine dismissal of a college football player for breaking the law, has turned into a complete embarrassment for Baylor University and head football coach Art Briles.

Baylor defensive end Sam Ukwuachu was convicted of sexual assault yesterday in a case involving a former Baylor women’s soccer player in October of 2013. Ukwuachu was officially indicted eight months later on two felony counts. The trial began on Monday of this week and the jury needed less than one full day of deliberations to deliver the guilty verdict. He was sentenced late Friday to 180 days in jail and 10 years’ probation.

What makes this particular case a little more problematic for all involved, particularly Baylor, is that Ukwuachu already had a violent history with women before he even showed up in Waco. Ukwuachu was a freshman All American defensive end at Boise State in 2012 and was accused of assault and dismissed from the team in 2013, although the official reason given was a violation of team rules. Briles claimed Friday that he knew nothing of the player’s troubles in Idaho. Current Washington Huskies head coach Chris Petersen, who was the head coach at Boise State during the period in question, said today he specifically warned Briles about Ukwuachu before the transfer became official.

Texas Monthly looked into Ukwuachu’s past at Boise State and reported this week that he had broken a window with his fist in the home that he shared with his girlfriend and another woman. No charges were ever filed, but Boise State coaches were aware of the incident, counseled the women to stay away from the home for a few days and looked into getting them both police protection, according to the article. After meeting with then-Broncos head coach Petersen, Ukwuachu was dismissed from the team.

That same month, he announced he was going back home to Texas and transferring to Baylor. The Bears petitioned the NCAA to make him eligible immediately and not sit out the mandatory one year that all transfers have to abide by. Baylor claimed that since he had been dismissed by Boise State, he was not really a transfer, but the NCAA denied the claim and Ukwuachu sat out the 2014 season. The issue of why he was dismissed from Boise State was never brought to light in the petition. It was in the Spring of that year he sat out that the sexual assault with the soccer player took place.

Once the school was made aware of the assault, it did its own internal investigation prior to the formal indictments. That investigation is at the heart of the issue as well. According to the Texas Monthly article, the school spoke to Ukwuachu, the girl and one other person and decided there was insufficient evidence for any disciplinary action. Ukwuachu’s defense attorney tried to use the school’s investigation on his client’s behalf during the trial, but District Court judge Matt Johnson declared that the school’s internal investigation was so lacking credibility that he refused to allow into the case as testimony.

Going back to before the start of the trial, because Ukwuachu was sitting out his transfer year, his indictment flew under the radar at Baylor. Through a year of legal proceedings, no one at the school ever publicly mentioned the assault, the arrest or the indictments and it got no real coverage in the local media. As late as June of this year, coaches openly discussed how the team’s defense would be bolstered by the addition of Ukwuachu and made no mention that he was facing felony assault charges and had a pending trial.

With the trial now being in the spotlight this week, Briles was asked about taking a player who had been kicked off another team because of his violent history. He denied knowing anything about Ukwuachu’s past. He said Friday morning that in conversations with Petersen, there had been, “No mention of anything beyond Sam being depressed and needing to come home. So that was our information and that’s what you go by.” That claim was quickly refuted Friday by Petersen, who issued a statement from Washington Huskies training camp. “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. In that conversation, I thoroughly apprised Coach Briles of the circumstances surrounding Sam’s disciplinary action and dismissal.”

Friday, Briles called Ukwuachu’s conviction, “unfortunate for everybody concerned.” He was quick to point out Friday that the defensive end had never played a down for Baylor, although that actually had more to do with the transfer year than any disciplinary action taken by Baylor.

So what happens from here? Ukwuachu has been convicted and sentenced and his football career is likely over. The victim in the case has since transferred to another college and testified against Ukwuachu during the trial. Baylor posts a mission statement touting its Christian values and its strict code of conduct, but it pertains to students only, so Briles is not likely to suffer any repercussions for allegedly covering up what he knew at the time of accepting Ukwuachu as a transfer student. He is also the coach that has resurrected a once-dormant football program and had the Bears just a few plays away from an appearance in last year’s college football playoffs. With the start of the season just two weeks away, barring some major outcry from alums, his job is safe as long as he continues to win.

In two weeks, you can count on it being all about football in Waco again.


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