Utah State has canceled Saturday night's scheduled game at Colorado State because of concerns voiced by football players about religious discrimination in the search for a new football coach, the university said in a statement Friday.
The decision came after Aggies players said earlier Friday that they had opted out of the game because of comments allegedly made by Utah State president Noelle Cockett about interim coach Frank Maile.
The school said it would meet with players to "hear their concerns in an open dialogue so it can address them."
"I am devastated that my comments were interpreted as bias against anyone's religious background," Cockett said in a statement. "Throughout my professional career and, especially, as president of USU, I have welcomed the opportunity to meet directly and often with students about their experiences. Regardless of how difficult the conversations might be in the coming days, I remain committed to giving our students a voice."
The Mountain West Conference hasn't yet ruled the game a no-contest, saying Friday night that it would determine the official standing at a later date.
Stadium reported Friday that during a videoconference Tuesday with Cockett and Aggies athletics director John Hartwell, Utah State's football leadership council lobbied for Maile to replace former coach Gary Andersen, who was fired after the team's 0-3 start.
During that videoconference, according to the Stadium report, Cockett purportedly voiced concerns about Maile's cultural and religious background. Maile, a Utah State graduate, is Polynesian and a member of the Church of Jesus Christ of Latter-day Saints. He is also the Aggies' co-defensive coordinator and defensive line coach.
According to Stadium, an Aggies player conducted a survey that asked players how they felt about Cockett's alleged statements. The report said that three-fourths of the Utah State players expressed concerns.
During a meeting Friday morning, the players voted unanimously to not play in the game.
In a statement provided to Stadium, Utah State's players wrote: "The Utah State football players have decided to opt out of our game against Colorado State due to ongoing inequality and prejudicial issues between the players, coaches, and the USU administration.
"On Tuesday, December 8th, the Utah State University Football Leadership Council held a zoom meeting with Noelle Cockett, President of USU, and John Hartwell, the Athletic Director. The purpose of the meeting was to have a say in the search for our new head coach. During the meeting, we voiced our support for Interim Head Coach Frank Maile. In response to our comments, their primary concern was his religious and cultural background. Players, stating their diverse faiths and backgrounds, then jumped to Coach Frank Maile's defense in treating everyone with love, equality, and fairness.
"It is not the first time issues of repeated discrimination have happened. In December 2019, our head equipment manager used a racial slur against one of our African-American teammates. After disregarding the incident, pressure resurfaced to investigate in the summer of 2020. After the investigation, the administration concluded he would continue to be employed."
Arkansas State coach Blake Anderson resigned on Thursday to become Utah State's new coach.
"We want our message to be clear that this has nothing to do with the hiring of Coach Blake Anderson, the recently-named head coach of the program," the players wrote. "We are sure he is an excellent coach; we look forward to meeting him and his staff. We are highlighting the ongoing problems of inequality and want to create a better future for the community of Logan and Utah State University."