Grambling officials meeting to resolve dispute

Associated Press

Grambling university officials are meeting this weekend in an effort to reach a resolution with disgruntled football players and avoid any more forfeits.

University spokesman Will Sutton said Saturday that players were given the weekend off but that officials were in touch with some of them by phone. Sutton says a practice scheduled for Monday, though it is unclear if players will show up.

Grambling players refused to travel from their Louisiana campus for Saturday's game at Jackson State because of issues they have with leaders of the athletic department and the university.

Some of the players have demanded the resignation of university President Frank Pogue, but Sutton says "that's not going to happen."

Grambling forfeited the game against Jackson State, but the university plans to play next Saturday's scheduled game at Grambling against Texas Southern. It is the school's annual High School Day, which draws in many prospective students from around the region.

Sutton said officials meeting this weekend include Pogue, athletic director Aaron James and coach Dennis "Dirt" Winston, the team's third coach this season. Doug Williams was fired after just two games and Winston replaced interim coach George Ragsdale on Thursday.

Sutton confirmed one of the players' concerns was about travel. The team recently took buses to games in Kansas City and Indianapolis.

"When you have your budget slashed by 57 percent, you have to make choices," Sutton said, adding that the school would "love" to fly the team to distant road games, but that Grambling was contractually obligated to take its band, cheerleaders and dance team on those two trips. He said those obligations led to the difficult choice to put everyone on buses.

Sutton specified that the 57 percent cut in state funding, which has occurred over the past several years, has affected the entire campus, and that athletics was spared significant cuts until this academic year. The athletic department was asked to cut $335,000 from its overall department budget of $6.8 million. Sutton said football was cut by $75,000 to about $2 million.

ESPN reported Saturday that it had obtained a letter detailing player complaints, which included mold in the locker room and improperly cleaned uniforms contributing to an increased likelihood of staph infections.

Sutton said that local health department inspectors, acting on an anonymous tip, recently visited Grambling athletic facilities and recommended changes to improve conditions, but did not deem those facilities a health hazard.

Sutton added that buildings throughout campus, including the library, have similar problems because of neglect, and that the conditions football players have complained of are symptomatic of problems campus-wide stemming from substantial budget cuts.

"If people want to get this fixed, there are two things they can do: Make a donation to the Grambling Foundation and the other is lobby legislators to fund Grambling at the level it should be funded," Sutton said.

With the forfeit to Jackson State on Saturday, Grambling has now lost 18 straight football games against NCAA opponents.

But Sutton said Williams' dismissal was not related to his "wins or losses, or Xs and Os. Not at all." When asked to clarify why Williams let go if not because of his record, Sutton said, "We don't discuss personnel matters."

Sutton added that the recent change in interim coaches was a move the AD felt needed to made in order to move closer to resolving the impasse with players, who Sutton said supported the decision to promote Winston.

Players were still not being made available for interviews on Saturday.

The ongoing chaotic situation first drew public attention on Tuesday, when players angrily walked out of meeting with administrators. Players then refused to practice Wednesday and Thursday, then did not show for buses Friday to travel to Mississippi for Saturday's game.

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