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University: Ex-coach abused players

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AUBURN HILLS, Mich. (AP)

Oakland University alleges that former women's basketball coach Beckie Francis physically and emotionally abused her players, was obsessed about their weight and pushed her Christian beliefs on them before she was fired.

The 19,000-student state university in suburban Detroit made the statements in a court brief filed Friday in response to Francis' lawsuit. The school fired Francis on June 12, the same day her husband, Gary Russi, announced his retirement as president of the university.

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A hearing is scheduled Wednesday on Francis' request for the university to release an unedited copy of its investigation report on her.

In its response to the lawsuit, Oakland University said students complained of "mental and emotional abuse" by Francis. She was "insulting and demeaning to assistant coaches" in the presence of players and viewed any disagreement "as proof of disloyalty, and disloyalty is not tolerated," according to the university's court filing.

Francis had players photographed in sports bras and spandex to monitor body changes, causing some played developed eating problems, the university said. She insisted that players attend church and showed Christian-themed videos on team bus rides, despite being told not to proselytize them as coach, according to the school.

Francis's lawyer, Deborah Gordon, told The Oakland Press of Pontiac that the accusation of abuse, "without context, is meaningless."

"This is the smear Beckie Francis has to live with," Gordin said.

Gordon denied that Francis was responsible for any dietary problems of her players.

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"You cannot create an eating disorder in a 20-year-old," the lawyer said. If a player had an eating problem, she said, "it has nothing to do with Beckie Francis."

Gordon said it is crucial for her client to be able to see the full university investigation report, including the identity of players making complaints, whose names were redacted by the university.

"They choose to do an investigation, create a written report and thrown vague allegations around in public, so it is what it is," Gordon told the Detroit Free Press. "She needs to know what is in that report, not what they say or supposedly told her."

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