The practice field was empty, still soaking wet from an earlier rainfall.
The workout room was deserted leaving nothing but out-of-date equipment and black patches of the floor missing in several spots.
There weren’t any football players in sight for Wednesday’s scheduled football practice at 5 p.m. at the Grambling State University Athletic Support Facilities.
“They did not show up for practice,” said Aaron James, GSU Athletic Director.
The players arrived at the facilities around 3 p.m. for a scheduled meeting. But instead of going inside of the faculties, they gathered outside and decided to not to return to practice at 5 p.m.
This came after some players walked out of a Tuesday meeting with university officials.
After practice on Tuesday, the players met with Grambling State University President, Frank Pogue, Student Government Association president, Jordan Harvey, AD James, and the interim head coach George Ragsdale.
According to Pogue, the purpose of the meeting was reassure the student athletes of the university’s support in the football program.
“The university supports the (football) team and that was my primary reason of being there and that was stated up front,” said Pogue. “I acknowledge that I was fully aware of the high level of frustration for individuals of the team.”
As the conversation developed, many players grew upset and some walked out.
“Some of the kids were disrespectful and some walked out,” said James. He notes that the vulgar language was not pinpointed at one individual, but “towards everyone.”
“It was a good time for them to vent,” said James. “They do not like to lose as much as the fans.”
The Tigers have not won a game against a conference opponent the 2011 SWAC championship game, losing 17 straight games against Division-I opponents.
“It’s often the case when something is wrong and you do not fully understand, you tend to blame yourself or blame other people,” said Pogue. “I was there to be blamed and offered myself as a person to be blamed.”
Harvey’s approach was to reassure the players that the student body was backing the football team as well.
According to reports, during the meeting Harvey called the team “soft” and other offensive words.
Harvey denied these reports and stated, “I did not call the Grambling State University football soft.”
“I am not against the football team, I am with them.”
Pogue admitted in an exclusive interview on Thursday morning that the negative language was used but he doesn’t believe Harvey’s attempt was to insult the players.
“Quite honestly, I did hear him say that but I did not attach the significance that some players attached to it,” said Pogue. “I do not think Jordan’s attempt was to offend anyone, he was really there to offer his support.”
In the aftermath of Tuesday’s meeting, Harvey explored the football facilities Wednesday afternoon.
“You can’t judge man, unless you know their struggles,” said Harvey after finding multiple unacceptable standards within the facilities. “Football players are still students and it’s my job to fight for their concerns.”
The SGA president said he is documenting all of the issues and will work to get them resolved quickly. Some players have expressed dissatisfaction with the circumstances and report problems such as, “mold in the weight room”, “the ceiling falling apart in weight room and locker room”, and “the floor in the weight room is tearing up and the weights are breaking.”
President Pogue confirmed Thursday morning that he has approved renovations to the weight room per Ragsdale’s request. This was a request by Ragsdale prior to Tuesday’s incident. The construction is projected to cost $32,000 and is under the immediate attention of the university.
After the paperwork is completed the process can take two or three weeks. It is possible the weight room can be finished before the Bayou Classic, Nov. 26-30.
Other concerns were brought forth in Tuesday’s meeting. Players were upset that it took Pogue more than 5 weeks to speak with them after firing their legendary Head Coach, Doug Williams.
Pogue believed it was in the best interest of the players to give them time to adjust to the coaching change before he spoke with them.
“I waited to give the people in leadership an opportunity to address certain issues,” said Pogue. He said has wanting to meet with the team even before the blowout to Alcorn State University. “I knew they were very frustrated and I knew some of the frustration was directed at me as president.”
Pogue says he has supported the team during this difficult time by attending practice and attending nearly all of the games.
Another issue some players mentioned was that they were forced to take a long bus ride to Indianapolis, Ind. in last week’s loss to Alcorn State University, 48-0, in the Circle City Classic.
“Alcorn took a plane,” said one Grambling player. “If anything, we Grambling State (players) should have taken a plane. We rode on that bus for 16 hours there and back.”
James said it would have been ” very expensive” to charter a plane for the team. He said the cost would have been between $50,000 and $70,000 and the bus was the better financial choice.
“We have a deficit in athletics every year between 1.4 million and 1.9 million dollars,” said Pogue. “The (institutional) budget has been cut by 57%. There are some things we can not afford.”
Pogue said he traveled to game using monies from Grambling State University Foundation Fund, where he has an account as president. This is separate from the monies allocated by the state.
“It’s not clearly not unusual for a team to drive by bus,” said Pogue. “Unless they have a sufficient amount of money.”
Most players attend the team meeting at 11 a.m. today but it’s still unclear if the team will show up for practice at 5 p.m.
“I expect them to come back to practice,” said James.
The Tigers will travel to Jackson, Miss. to play Jackson State University for their homecoming at 2 p.m. at Mississippi Veterans Memorial Stadium on Saturday.