Badgers’ Chryst says he never spoke directly to Williams

Jeff Hanisch-USA TODAY Sports
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MADISON, Wis. — Wisconsin coach Paul Chryst says he never personally spoke with Caleb Williams when the former Oklahoma quarterback was considering potential transfer destinations before choosing Southern California.

Chryst added that he did keep incumbent quarterback Graham Mertz informed about the situation as Williams was making his decision.

“He understands,” Chryst said, the day before Wisconsin opens spring practice. “That’s the world that we’re in right now. . You always want to make sure you’re communicating with your players.”

Wisconsin was linked as a possible landing spot for Williams thanks in part to his relationship with new Badgers offensive coordinator Bobby Engram, who is friendly with the Williams family. Williams and Engram’s son, Wisconsin receiver Dean Engram, were teammates at Gonzaga College High School in Washington, D.C.

During his introductory news conference last month, Engram said “any great player that becomes available that’s interested in you, you have to look at.” But he added that “I think people really linked us together more than what it might have been.”

“A lot of that was played out probably more so publicly than it was,” Chryst said.

Mertz, the most heralded quarterback prospect to sign with Wisconsin since the arrival of recruiting websites, has struggled with consistency in two seasons as a starter.

He went 20 of 21 and tied a school record by throwing five touchdown passes while leading Wisconsin to a 45-7 victory over Illinois in his first career start. Since that game, Mertz has thrown a combined 16 interceptions and 14 touchdown passes since that game.

Mertz has completed 59.5% of his career passes.

“He’s now had two seasons that he’s played a lot of football and two seasons worth of opportunities and times where he’s done some really good things,” Chryst said. “And then there’s clips where this is where you absolutely have to get better, and this you can’t do anymore. The thing I’ve always appreciated about working with Graham is you can go direct with him. He cares. He cares about this team first and foremost.”

Mertz is working with a new-look offensive staff.

Al Johnson has joined the staff as running backs coach. Bob Bostad moved from inside linebackers coach to offensive line coach, a job he previously held from 2008-11. Engram will coach quarterbacks. Chris Hearing, Wisconsin’s special teams coordinator for the last seven seasons, is the new tight ends coach. Alvis Whitted remains the receivers coach.

Chryst said the special teams responsibilities will be divided among staff members. Chryst added that the Badgers would take a collaborative approach to play-calling responsibilities.

Wisconsin ranked first nationally in total defense but 88th in total offense last season while going 9-4 with a Las Vegas Bowl victory over Arizona State.

Minnesota football players’ discrimination lawsuit dismissed

Jesse Johnson-USA TODAY Sports
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MINNEAPOLIS — A federal judge has dismissed a lawsuit filed by nine former University of Minnesota football players who were accused of sexual assault in 2016 in a case that roiled the school’s football program.

The lawsuit against the school claimed that the players faced emotional distress and financial damage after being falsely accused of being sex offenders. The players, who were identified in the lawsuit as John Does, sought unspecified damages for willful and malicious discrimination.

A woman alleged up to a dozen football players raped her or watched and cheered at an off-campus party in 2016. None of the players were ever charged.

The university found that 10 football players committed sexual misconduct. Five of them were expelled or suspended for violating student conduct codes, and the others were cleared on appeal.

In their lawsuit, the players alleged that the woman initiated the sexual encounters with players and an underage recruit.

U.S. District Court Judge Donovan Frank dismissed the lawsuit last week, saying the former players did not prove any of their claims, including allegations of bias by university investigators or pressure from Athletic Director Mark Coyle and former President Eric Kaler, the Minneapolis Star-Tribune reported.

David Madgett, an attorney for the players, said Tuesday that they are considering an appeal but have to determine if it makes sense financially and in terms of letting the former players get on with their lives. He said it was disappointing that the outcome was determined by the judge’s version of events and not decided by a jury.

“It’s disappointing to see disputes decided in this way,” Madgett said. “That’s the way things are decided more and more these days. … It’s disappointing you don’t get your day in court.”

When the allegations became public in 2016, players threatened to boycott the team’s trip to the Holiday Bowl. But after a graphic report of the investigation was released, the players agreed to play in the game.

University of Minnesota spokesman Jake Ricker said the school appreciated the judge’s decision affirming the actions taken in the case. He said the university would continue its work focusing on sexual misconduct awareness, prevention and response.

Frank dismissed the lawsuit in 2019, but an appeals court reinstated part of it in 2021 and returned it to Frank.

The players, all of whom are Black, also initially claimed racial discrimination, but that claim was previously dismissed.

The only remaining claim alleged Title IX gender discrimination. The former players noted that they never faced criminal charges, but Frank’s ruling said that “is certainly not evidence of a judicial adjudication or that plaintiffs ‘were proven innocent.'”

The men also claimed that an investigator for the university’s Office of Equal Opportunity and Affirmative Action used “manipulative tactics” with them in interviews and that their accuser helped draft the report. The players also alleged that “prior failed investigations motivated” the the school to punish them.

Frank said all the claims were unsupported by the evidence and “no reasonable jury could find that the University disciplined plaintiffs on the basis of sex.”

Michigan State player who swung helmet gets probation

Mike Carter-USA TODAY Sports
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ANN ARBOR, Mich. — A Michigan State football player who swung his helmet at a Michigan player in a stadium tunnel expressed regret Tuesday and said he’s “just looking forward to wuppin’ some maize and blue” on the field.

Khary Crump, a defensive back, was sentenced to probation. He was one of seven Michigan State players charged in a skirmish that followed a loss at Michigan Stadium on Oct. 29.

Crump was the only Spartan facing a felony, but that charge was dismissed in an agreement to plead guilty to misdemeanors. His record will be scrubbed clean if he stays out of trouble while on probation.

“Unfortunately, an exchange of words (took place), I felt attacked and unfortunately I did what I did,” Crump said of the tunnel altercation involving Michigan’s Gemon Green. “I’m not proud of that. I’m looking forward to moving forward.”

Crump was suspended by coach Mel Tucker. In addition, the Big Ten has suspended him for eight games in 2023.

“I had difficulties trying to stomach my actions … on that fateful day, but it happened. I can’t take it back,” Crump told MLive.com after the court hearing. “Honestly, I’m just looking forward to wuppin’ some maize and blue in the future — on the football field, of course.”

At least four other players charged with misdemeanors Will Likely have their cases dismissed in exchange for community service and other conditions. The cases against two others are pending.