San Diego State players get first look at Snapdragon Stadium

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SAN DIEGO – After playing home games in a Los Angeles suburb the last two seasons, San Diego State’s football players loaded into buses Wednesday afternoon for the 10-minute drive to their new stadium.

They liked what they saw of 35,000-seat Snapdragon Stadium so much that they were already looking forward to what it will be like having a home-field advantage again when it opens Sept. 3 with a game against Arizona.

Linebacker Caden McDonald said getting to open a new stadium in the school’s 100th season of football was a big reason why he came back for his senior season.

“My last two seasons, I’ve been in Carson. I haven’t been able to play San Diego football in San Diego,” McDonald said. “We’ve been in Carson. So, this is truly going to be a blessing to be able to play in front of San Diego fans in San Diego.”

The Aztecs haven’t played in San Diego since 2019. Due to the pandemic affecting the 2020 schedule, the school decided to move up demolition of 70,000-seat SDCCU Stadium earlier than originally planned to help expedite construction of Snapdragon Stadium. The stadium is the first phase of a campus expansion in Mission Valley.

The Aztecs went 12-2 last year for the best season in school history. But because they played 116 miles from campus in Dignity Health Sports Park in Carson, many of their fans didn’t see them in person. SDSU went 6-2 in Carson, including a thrilling three-overtime win over Utah of the Pac-12 and a victory against Boise State that clinched the Mountain West Conference’s West Division title. That meant making one more trip up the freeway for the conference championship game, which the Aztecs lost 46-13 to Utah State.

SDSU bounced back with a Frisco Bowl win over UTSA to finish No. 25 in The Associated Press poll.

“Having the convenience of being 10 minutes from the campus is going to be a game-changer for sure,” McDonald said after the seniors were the first group of players to tour the stadium, which is still under construction. “This is what it’s about. This is how college football is supposed to be, not playing 14 away games a year. Now we actually get a home-field advantage. This will definitely be one of the best home-field advantages in college football this season.”

The Aztecs said the first thing that jumped out at them is how steep the stands are and how close they are to the field.

“I’m not a design guy, but I tell you, the fans are going to be right on top of you and it’s going to be a great atmosphere,” said coach Hoke, who has been to the new stadium a few times. “When it’s your home place, it’s great, believe me. I think it makes a difference, especially if you’re playing well.”

Athletic director J.D. Wicker said all of Snapdragon Stadium, other than the top of the west side upper deck, would have fit inside the field-level seating at SDCCU Stadium. “It’s very intimate and that’s what we were going for,” Wicker said. “We’ve got a great example in a basketball arena on campus of an intimate facility that’s steep and is a lot of excitement and that’s what we’re going to have here.”

Snapdragon Stadium is going up just west of where SDCCU Stadium stood since 1967. After the NFL’s Chargers bolted for Los Angeles following the 2016 season, San Diego State won a ballot measure that gave it the right to buy the majority of the Mission Valley site for a campus expansion and new football stadium.

Senior wide receiver Jesse Matthews, who grew up in San Diego, voted for that ballot measure in November 2018. Now he gets to play in the stadium.

“That’s cool how it all came full circle,” he said. “I wasn’t sure when they were going to get it done. But it’s a perfect storm, our 100th season, my senior year, being back home after being on the road for two years, it’s incredible.”

The Aztecs have sold 11,500 season tickets with a goal of 18,000, Wicker said.

The ground-up concrete from SDCCU Stadium is in a massive pile about 150 yards east of Snapdragon Stadium. It will be used as fill at the campus expansion site.

Minnesota football players’ discrimination lawsuit dismissed

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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

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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.