About 20 Jacksonville State University students and area residents gathered at a committee meeting of the school’s board of trustees Monday to protest the acceptance of Landon Rice onto the football team.

The protesters, complete with signs, appeared to be part of a backlash that has grown on social media since JSU officials announced last week that the former four-star recruit, found “responsible” for a sexual assault in 2016 while a student at Auburn University, would transfer to the Gamecocks. Rice has not been charged with a crime.  

Katelin Molan burst into tears as she ran from the athletics committee meeting while it was still in progress. The 20-year-old JSU student had just alleged a university student coach had assaulted her last year and explained that she didn’t want a new football recruit accused of sexual assault in 2016 playing for the Gamecocks.

“I don’t feel like I matter … the problem is you seem more concerned with winning football games and championships than with the safety of women,” Molan said to members of the JSU trustees’ committee.

JSU alumnus Megan Treglown, 27, who did not attend the meeting, said in a recent phone interview that she had sent complaint emails to JSU President John Beehler and athletics director Greg Seitz, asking them to rescind the offer to Rice to play football. Treglown got her bachelor’s degree in communications at JSU in 2013, her master’s degree in public administration in 2016, and works for the city of Rome, Ga., as marketing and special events coordinator.

“I’m a very proud alumnus, but this doesn’t make me proud of my alma mater … I do not think this was the best move,” Treglown said of the Rice decision. “This ignores sexual assaults on college campuses … it disregards the safety of women.”

Rice signed with Auburn in February 2016 out of Calhoun, Ga., but left the program in September of that year because of what Auburn head football coach Gus Malzahn described as “personal reasons.” A Title IX investigation conducted by the school found him “responsible” of sexual assault, following an alleged April 2016 incident. Title IX is a federal law that outlaws sex-based discrimination at schools that receive federal funding, and legally requires those schools to respond to complaints and remedy hostile educational environments, such as sexual harassment and sexual violence.

Rice was accused of first-degree rape. Lee County Circuit Court Judge Steven Speakman granted a temporary order of protection against him, filed by an unidentified 19-year-old accuser, according to court documents.

Auburn denied Rice’s attempts to appeal the school’s ruling, and at the time, the university banned him from stepping foot on campus until the fall of 2024. Rice spent the 2017 season at Mississippi Gulf Coast Community College.

As part of a prepared statement last week, however, Seitz attached an Auburn memorandum of final disposition, issued by Kelley Taylor, director for Affirmative Action / Equal Employment Opportunity, and Title IX coordinator, on Nov. 7, 2017, saying sanctions levied against Rice as a result of Auburn’s Title IX investigation have been lifted.

The memorandum declared the matter “concluded.”

The statement from Seitz also said that JSU fully investigated Rice before making a decision.

“Both the board and I are satisfied that due diligence was followed to bring this student to campus,” JSU President Beehler said after the meeting.

Thomas Dedrick, chairman of the athletics committee, told the protesters that every student is important and that the rights of women have to be protected on campus.

“But we can not pass judgement when we don’t have all the facts,” Dedrick said of Rice. ”This is not an issue to be taken lightly … if we had any question that this wasn’t the right thing to do, we wouldn’t have accepted him.”

Jessica Forbus, 23, who graduated from JSU in 2016 with a bachelor’s degree in political science, said in a recent phone interview that she didn’t want Rice on the football team and that the decision to let him play would only hurt the university.

“What’s the benefit of him playing on campus?” Forbus asked. “Sure, he can play football, but is it really worth it?”

Staff Writer Patrick McCreless: 256-235-3561. On Twitter @PMcCreless_Star.