Three Baylor football players have been suspended from the team because of allegations of sexual assault involving football players and female members of the university's equestrian team, a university official confirmed to ESPN.
At a Wednesday news conference, Bears coach Matt Rhule named four players who were suspended and would not be participating in spring practice. They included three redshirt freshmen, John Arthur, Justin Harris and Tre'von Lewis, as well as sophomore Eric Ogor.
A Baylor spokesman told Outside the Lines before the news conference that one of the players was being held out because of an issue unrelated to any sexual violence incident, but he did not identify the player; Rhule also declined to specify which of the players were connected to the sexual assault investigation.
Ogor, from Richmond, Texas, was suspended in October for the remainder of the 2017 season. At the time, Baylor officials said his discipline was unrelated to Title IX issues and that he might be eligible to return in the spring.
The three players tied to the sexual assault investigation have been completely separated from the team since the allegations were first made in November, the spokesman said. Although their separation is related to the ongoing sexual assault investigation, the school has not indicated what their alleged role might have been in the reported assault.
Rhule said he was confident the investigation was being handled properly and that he didn't know much about it.
"The people that do this for a living, they handle the investigation," he said. "... I don't know much about the case, and I think that's really a good thing, because I probably really shouldn't know much about it as the football coach."
It is unknown whether those three players also are among the four alleged suspects named in a police report regarding the alleged incident. According to a Baylor University Police Department incident report obtained by Outside the Lines, two female Baylor students told police that they were sexually assaulted at University Parks Apartments in Waco, Texas, during the early-morning hours of Nov. 12, only hours after Baylor lost to Texas Tech at AT&T Stadium in Arlington, Texas.
The two women reported the incident to Baylor police on Nov. 17, according to the report.
The identities of the four alleged suspects, who were each identified as students, and six witnesses (three students and three faculty/staff members) were redacted. The alleged victims were identified by the pseudonyms "Jane Doe" and "Donna Smith."
In a March 2 letter to Texas attorney general Ken Paxton, an attorney representing the university wrote that the alleged victims initially reported the incident to Baylor equestrian coach Casie Maxwell, who made a report and forwarded it to the university's Title IX office, Clery Act specialist Shelley Deats and Baylor police chief Brad Wigtil. The letter was sent as part of the school's response to a public records act request by Outside the Lines.
The McLennan County District Attorney's office is considering whether to bring criminal charges against the players but hasn't yet presented the case to a grand jury. District attorney Abel Reyna didn't immediately respond to telephone calls from Outside the Lines.
Baylor president Linda Livingstone released a statement Tuesday night:
"Baylor University takes any allegation of sexual assault seriously," she wrote. "The University's new leadership team is unwavering in our commitment to follow our well-documented Title IX policy and procedures in regards to reporting and responding to incidents of sexual assault. The responsibility of responding to alleged incidents of sexual violence does not rest solely in the hands of any specific individual or unit. It is a University response dictated by our Title IX policy. Baylor University remains committed to providing for the safety and security of our campus community."
At Wednesday's news conference, Rhule said he welcomed questions about the issue of sexual assault, although he could not say much about the current suspended student-athletes.
"These are the issues everywhere. This isn't a Baylor thing. This is an 'our world' thing. And so I willingly answer those questions," he said. "...These are major issues, and so I don't think any of us should run away from them ...This is what we all need, should be talking about."
A reporter referenced two members of Rhule's staff who were fired near the start of his tenure. One was a coach arrested in connection with a prostitution sting and another was a staff member who reportedly sent inappropriate text messages to a teenager. The reporter asked, "Are you worried at all about the culture of the program?"
"No, not at all," Rhule said without hesitation. "Things happen all the time, everywhere. You can either hide from it and try to hide it from all you guys so it looks like everything is great, and you end up not doing the right thing. Or you can be very transparent about things, knowing that you open yourself up for criticism."
"As you look at the scandals and things that have happened other places, it's always been when people are afraid to handle what's happened," he said, adding that the incidents with his former staff and players do not indicate a cultural problem and that they were quickly and properly addressed.
Rhule reiterated the work he and the school have done to provide sexual assault awareness and education for his staff and team. He is known for sending regular text messages to his players reminding them to be respectful to women and act appropriately off the field.
"People are going to say things, and I get all that, but that doesn't mean there's a bad culture," Rhule said. "There's a bad culture when kids do things and grown-ups hide them. And nobody's hiding anything here. And so that's why I know that we're doing things right."
Baylor's handling of sexual violence allegations and other complaints involving students and football players has been heavily scrutinized over the past two years. The scandal culminated in May 2016 with the firing of former football coach Art Briles, the demotion of university president Ken Starr and the suspension of athletic director Ian McCaw. Starr and McCaw left Baylor soon after.
The scandal led to multiple investigations by the Texas Rangers, McLennan County District Attorney's office, U.S. Department of Education, Big 12 and NCAA. Ten Title IX lawsuits have been filed against the university by a total of 22 women, including 20 who alleged being either sexually assaulted or physically assaulted, and four of the complaints have been either settled or dismissed.
Philadelphia law firm Pepper Hamilton -- which was hired by the school's board of regents to investigate whether the school properly handled allegations of sexual assault by students, including football players -- was critical of the culture within the football program and Briles' discipline of players. Pepper Hamilton's findings described Baylor's football players as being "above the rules" with "no culture of accountability for misconduct."
According to Pepper Hamilton, its findings "reflect significant concerns about the tone and culture within Baylor's football program as it relates to accountability for all forms of athlete misconduct." It also faulted the football team for not adequately vetting transfer students, including former Boise State defensive end Sam Ukwuachu and Penn State defensive end Shawn Oakman, who were accused of sexual assault at Baylor.
Baylor announced last year that it had implemented 105 recommendations made by Pepper Hamilton, including Title IX training and mandatory online training in the football program.