The chancellor of the University of Arkansas gave unqualified support Friday to basketball coach John Pelphrey, calling him the man who is "going to turn it around" after police investigated three players over an alleged rape.
In an interview with The Associated Press, Chancellor David Gearhart said he will remain in daily contact with athletic director Jeff Long as Long and Pelphrey weigh potential disciplinary action over the Aug. 27 incident at the Phi Gamma Delta fraternity house.
"What (athletes) do resonates across the state and throughout the community. They are in the spotlight," Gearhart said. "When you're in the spotlight, it brings really, in a sense, greater responsibility. I don't think we should shy away from that."
An 18-year-old freshman named three basketball players in the rape complaint, saying one forced her to commit a sex act and another began a sex act with her a short time later in a locked bedroom at the fraternity house. The house, on the university's campus, is a short walk from Bud Walton Arena where the team plays.
Prosecutor John Threet said Wednesday that he wouldn't file charges in the case, saying the investigation didn't show that the woman was unaware a sex act occurred or that she was unable to say no. The woman acknowledged drinking five shots of vodka at a party, though several witnesses told investigators she appeared to be lucid and able to walk without stumbling.
John Bass, a Springdale lawyer representing the woman, issued a statement Friday saying the family may request a special prosecutor be appointed to re-examine the case over the fact Threet has family ties to the university's athletic department. Bass also said a civil lawsuit against "the myriad of individuals and entities involved in the incident and investigation" remained a possibility.
Threet said Friday that a circuit judge would decide whether to appoint a special prosecutor and that he decided not to press charges solely because there wasn't sufficient evidence.
Though not facing criminal charges, the three players could be disciplined by the athletic department or academically. Students who are 21 and older can drink in private quarters on campus, though allowing or encouraging underage drinking is against school rules, said Danny Pugh, the university's vice provost for student affairs and the dean of students.
Point guard Courtney Fortson, who was not one of three players named in the complaint, also may face disciplinary action after posting a message Monday on the micro-blogging Web site Twitter that read: "Im gettin it at workouts like a dude who doesnt understand the word no from a drunk girl lol."
Gearhart said he knew about the rape allegation as soon as athletic department officials received word about it.
Pelphrey, who will enter this third season as Arkansas' coach this fall, joined the program before Gearhart assumed the top administrative post at the school.
Since becoming coach, Pelphrey has disciplined players several times, including at the end of last season when he suspended Jason Henry days before the Southeastern Conference tournament for an unspecified violation of team rules. Henry is no longer with the team. Former guard Patrick Beverley also said somebody wrote a paper for him while he was with the Razorbacks and the NCAA put the team on notice about its low academic-progress rate.
Gearhart said some of the team's problems didn't rest on Pelphrey's shoulders.
"He inherited some of the situation, frankly, and I think he's the man that's going to turn it around," Gearhart said. "It is unfortunate that we have had some of these issues, but I solidly believe that he's going to turn it around and can turn it around."
Pugh said Phi Gamma Delta had been suspended from holding public events while the school conducts an investigation. However, Pugh said the fraternity could continue holding pledge meetings and noted its members spoke candidly with police investigators.
A similar incident happened in 1991, when school officials suspended four Arkansas basketball players after a 34-year-old woman accused them of sexual assault at a university athletic dormitory. The woman, who police said was drunk, never pressed charges and prosecutors said the evidence wasn't sufficient to file charges.
B. Alan Sugg, then chancellor at the university, later drastically reduced the players' suspensions. However, Gearhart said he wouldn't find himself in a similar situation.
"I have great faith in Jeff Long and a great faith in John Pelphrey," Gearhart said. "I believe they will handle this the appropriate way and that it will ultimately be resolved fairly and the right way."
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