University of Houston officials said the FBI is investigating racially charged e-mails and calls directed toward the Cougars basketball team, and specifically junior guard Aubrey Coleman after he was ejected for a flagrant foul in last Saturday's overtime loss at Arizona when he appeared to step on Chase Budinger's face.
FBI special agent Pat Villafranca out of the Houston FBI media office said Wednesday as a matter of policy it doesn't confirm or deny an investigation. But a member of the Houston media relations staff did say Wednesday that there was an FBI presence at the school.
Houston coach Tom Penders said that Coleman, and members of the team, have been getting "very ugly" e-mails over the incident.
"There's been a lot of racial slurs," said Coleman, who is black. Budinger is white. "It's crazy. I saved the e-mails. I haven't been contacted, but I do know the police and the FBI were at the practices to make sure everything was safe."
Coleman was suspended for Wednesday night's game against UTEP by Conference USA.
A Conference USA spokesperson said Wednesday that the information presented to the league office supported Coleman being suspended under the league's sportsmanship policy. Courtney Morrison-Archer of C-USA said that the league office agreed with the official call on the court last Saturday of Coleman being ejected for a flagrant foul. A flagrant foul of this nature was cause for a violation of the sportsmanship policy.
Penders said he's not going to question C-USA's decision. But Penders and Coleman dispute the intent. Coleman said he was surprised by the suspension because he said the issue had been "blown out of proportion with everyone saying I was the bad guy."
"I've been very depressed on how the public and the media put this out, like I did it on purpose," Coleman said. "I wish it didn't happen. I'm not that type of person. Chase is a great player and I would never try to do that."
Penders said Coleman is being unfairly vilified by the way the video was edited and shown nationally. Budinger was taking a charge on Coleman late in regulation at midcourt. Penders said Coleman was trying to see what the call was when he looked back and wasn't looking down when he stepped on Budinger.
"He attempted to step over Chase; at no time did he mean to hurt the kid," Penders said. "It's clear on the replay that he never touches his face, but his shoulder."
Coleman said he thought Budinger was flopping on the play. He said he thought it was going to be a block, not a charge. He said he looked up, reacted, and then "I tried to step over him. He knows it was his shoulder. I even rolled my ankle [trying to avoid] him. I wanted to see if he was OK, but he was up on me," he said.
Arizona interim coach Russ Pennell said Wednesday that the Wildcats considered the matter closed once Coleman issued a public apology and then was suspended by C-USA. But Pennell disputed Coleman's claims that he didn't hit Budinger's face.
"He definitely clipped his face and then his foot slid to his shoulder," Pennell said. "Was he aiming for his face? I don't know. But it's hard to believe that he was trying to step over him."
Coleman and Penders also challenge that Coleman was celebrating after being ejected, despite what was shown on the edited highlight. Coleman said teammate Nick Mosley came up to him and patted him on the shoulder and that's when "I smiled, shook his hand and walked to the locker room. The crowd was going crazy."
Coleman said he wasn't high-fiving teammates or celebrating that he had been ejected. Penders asked rhetorically why Coleman, the team's leading scorer, would want to get ejected or celebrate it with the Cougars ahead with 9:51 left in the game?
Arizona declined to make Budinger available for comment.
Coleman said he will be on the bench for Wednesday's game. He said he wants to focus on his return Saturday at Memphis.
"I apologized," Coleman said. "I know I didn't do this intentionally."
Andy Katz is a senior writer at ESPN.com.