The Missouri athletic department is again facing scrutiny after the Tigers softball team played Saturday “in protest” of a university investigation into the program and longtime coach Ehren Earleywine.
A list of grievances, many aimed at second-year Mizzou athletic director Mack Rhoades, were released as part of a statement signed by “Missouri softball players,” before a 2 p.m. first pitch against South Carolina at University Field in Columbia.
According to a MU athletic department release Saturday, the university launched an internal review of the softball program after receiving complaints from both inside and outside the program in recent weeks.
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Here is the full text of the softball team’s statement:
“Missouri players are playing this game in protest of our athletic administration and specifically Missouri head AD Mack Rhoades. The Missouri athletic department is conducting a wholly unsubstantiated investigation of our softball program and the softball coaching staff. The softball players support and love our coaching staff, and we wonder why this black cloud is being put over our program intentionally by Mizzou AD Mack Rhoades.
“The administration is conducting an unjust investigation which includes:
— Bullying and intimidating players during forced interviews
— AD Mack Rhoades told us that we, the players don’t have ANY say in who is the coach of our team
— We believe a gag order has been placed on our coaches
— The administration was completely incompetent in handing the fall football scandal and they are doing a worse job at this
— This is a Title IX sport and they’re making up a false investigation
— The softball program under coach Ehren Earleywine IS THE WINNINEST PROGRAM IN THE HISTORY OF MISSOURI SPORTS
“Mack Rhoades and Mizzou athletics administration drawing out this unnecessary investigation on our coaching staff is having an emotional effect on our team.
“Let our coaches coach us! That’s why we came here!”
Following a request for comment about the softball team’s allegations, the Mizzou athletic department issued a release that said it and the university would have no comment because the review is ongoing and involves personnel matters. The softball players and Earleywine did not take questions from reporters after their game Saturday, a 3-1 loss to South Carolina. Two players told reporters they stood behind their teammates before leaving the field.
It’s unclear what the nature of the investigation is.
Earleywine, who became Mizzou’s softball coach in 2007, was reprimanded last year when emails obtained by ESPN exposed his rift with Missouri State coach Holly Hesse. He later apologized in a statement “for the unprofessional comments I made.” The National Fastpitch Coaches Association issued a public reprimand of Earleywine in August.
Rhoades said at that time that such criticism “bothers me, and Ehren knows that, because I’ve told him.”
He was suspended for the Tigers’ opening game in February for a secondary recruiting violation. Earleywine emailed a scholarship offer to a prospective student-athlete before Aug. 1 of her senior year of high school. Verbal offers are permitted, but he violated NCAA rules by making it a written offer in the email.
Earleywine is 449-150 in 10 seasons with the Tigers, including a 38-12 mark entering Saturday’s game with the Gamecocks. The Tigers have won nine consecutive games entering Saturday, improving to sixth in the Southeastern Conference standings.
Missouri, of course, was ground zero for a wave of campus protests last fall about race relations. The Tigers football team announced a boycott in solidarity with a hunger-striking student Nov. 7 and missed practice Nov. 8.
Mizzou returned to practice on Nov. 9 after then-University of Missouri system president Tim Wolfe and MU chancellor R. Bowen Loftin resigned under pressure.
Later that same week, MU football coach Gary Pinkel announced that he had follicular lymphoma and would retire after the season. He is Missouri’s career football coaching victory leader.