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Political debate roils South Carolina after university cancels BYU women’s basketball games

State lawmakers demand University of South Carolina ‘apologize to BYU’ after canceling women’s basketball series

SHARE Political debate roils South Carolina after university cancels BYU women’s basketball games
South Carolina head coach Dawn Staley cuts the net after a college basketball game against UConn in April 2022.

South Carolina head coach Dawn Staley cuts the net after a college basketball game in the final round of the Women’s Final Four NCAA tournament against UConn on April 3, 2022, in Minneapolis. South Carolina won 64-49 to win the championship.

Charlie Neibergall, Associated Press

South Carolina state lawmakers are arguing over University of South Carolina women’s basketball coach Dawn Staley’s decision to cancel a scheduled two-game series with Brigham Young University women’s basketball team.

The South Carolina Freedom Caucus, which includes over a dozen state lawmakers, sent a letter to Staley and University of South Carolina athletic director Ray Tanner asking for clarification on the decision to cancel the series with BYU. They said it seemed to be an “ill-advised overreaction to an apparent erroneous claim.”

Staley announced the withdrawal of the Gamecocks from a home-and-home series with the Cougars one week after a Duke women’s volleyball player said racial slurs were yelled at her from the crowd during a game in Provo.

“As a head coach, my job is to do what’s best for my players and staff. The incident at BYU has led me to reevaluate our home-and-home, and I don’t feel that this is the right time for us to engage in this series,” Staley said in a statement posted Sept. 2.

BYU’s women’s basketball responded, saying they were “extremely disappointed” and asked for “patience with the on-going investigation.”

Now Staley has come under fire from state lawmakers. 

“Given the totality of the circumstances, it seems the University of South Carolina rushed to appease the loudest voices of the far left by ‘canceling’ BYU both literally and figuratively without respect for the truth,” the caucus wrote. “It is our opinion the university acted arbitrarily and capriciously without consideration or regard for the facts and circumstances.”

BYU announced that after an extensive investigation that it could find no corroborating evidence to back the racial slur allegation made by the Duke volleyball player. The West Coast Conference subsequently released a statement backing BYU and concluded that the university “conducted a transparent and thorough investigation.”

After hearing about the completed BYU investigation, the South Carolina Freedom Caucus released another statement condemning the Gamecocks’ “reckless regard for the truth.”

“The deeply held American ideals of fairness and the presumption of innocence were trampled on by the University of South Carolina, Coach Tanner, and Coach Staley in their overzealous race to the bottom of the virtue signaling barrel,” the caucus wrote. They further said that the Gamecocks “aided in irreparable harm done to BYU” and demanded that the University of South Carolina “issue a public and immediate apology to BYU.”

The group of lawmakers are now requesting communication records of the deliberations between Staley and university officials that led to the decision to cancel the series with BYU, citing legislative Freedom of Information Act authority. 

But state Sen. Gerald Malloy, D-Darlington, called on the 14-member lawmaker group to halt the “ill-informed, intrusive and unnecessary” inquiry into Staley’s decision.

“I find it curious that South Carolina legislators have taken up the cause of one of the largest private universities in the nation, affiliated with a well-funded denomination, in a state some 2,000 miles away,” Malloy said in a letter sent to the caucus’ chairman.

Malloy also said asserting FOIA authority is not necessary since Staley already explained what led to her decision to cancel the series with BYU. He referenced media reports two days after Staley’s initial announcement of her decision where she told reporters, “It wasn’t a knee-jerk reaction. I don’t knee-jerk anything.” 

“I vetted it. I talked to various people that were a part of the situation. I slept on it a few nights and I woke up with the same gut feeling that I shouldn’t put our players in the situation,” Staley said. 

Staley maintains that she didn’t consult anyone preceding her decision and that Tanner stood by it.

“I didn’t do it to condemn BYU. This was a selfish decision,” Staley said. “I was only thinking about South Carolina women’s basketball. I wanted to handle it on my own and didn’t involve anyone else. I wanted to make sure our players didn’t have to endure that. If something were to happen in that manner, I don’t have the words to comfort them. I’d rather just not put ourselves in that situation.”

The South Carolina Freedom Caucus responded to Malloy’s letter by saying his assertions about the FOIA authority are either “ignorant or disingenuous.” 

The lawmakers cited BYU’s investigation that found no evidence of racial epithets and referenced CNN’s recent pronouncement that the situation appeared to be a “‘rush to judgment ... to believe the Duke player’s accusations’ when no evidence whatsoever existed to corroborate the claim.” 

The Gamecocks have yet to announce a replacement team for their home opener scheduled for Nov. 7 or the 2023 game originally slated to be played in Provo.

Staley says she stands by her decision to cancel the series despite the findings of BYU’s investigation. 

“After my personal research, I made a decision for the well-being of my team. I regret that my university, my athletics director Ray Tanner and others got drawn into the criticism of a choice that I made,” Staley said in a statement released to the press by the university.