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 LAS CRUCES, N.M. (AP) -New Mexico State and coach Hal Mumme announced a settlement Thursday in a lawsuit brought by four former football players who claimed they were discriminated against because they are Muslims.
The case was scheduled to go to trial Monday. Both sides said they were pleased the settlement was reached before then.
``Our motivation was to put this issue behind us and to avoid a contentious, prolonged legal battle that would have done little but continue a distraction to the program,'' athletics director McKinley Boston said.
Plaintiffs attorney Joleen Youngers said she was eager to present her clients' case to a jury but ``we would have been foolish to turn our backs on a reasonable resolution outside the courtroom.''
Former players Mu'Ammar Ali, Jacob Wallace and brothers Anthony and Vincent Thompson had alleged they were subject to a hostile environment because of their religion.
Their lawsuit claimed religious discrimination and violations of the athletes' right to freely exercise their religion. It contended Mumme instituted a ``religious brotherhood'' within the team, singled out Muslim athletes and had players recite the Lord's Prayer after each practice and before each game.
Wallace, reached by phone Thursday, said the past year has been stressful.
``It seemed like it would never end, that this thing would continually go on and on,'' he said from San Francisco. ``I'm glad with the decision that was made.''
Wallace declined to discuss the discrimination claims, saying he believes they now are irrelevant.
``At this point, I would like to move on with my future, and hopefully this is something I can put behind me,'' he said.
The university didn't admit any wrongdoing in the case. Boston said the settlement reflects that New Mexico State denied any discrimination occurred.
``In our view, we did nothing wrong,'' he said.
University president Michael Martin added: ``While this puts the issue to rest, we also maintain the solid integrity and reputation of our university.''
But Youngers said her clients still believe in their claims.
``They would have not brought this lawsuit if they did not believe they had been discriminated against,'' she said. ``They haven't changed their view of what occurred, but they have agreed to resolve the dispute through settlement rather than trial.''
Both parties agreed to keep the settlement amount confidential for six months.
The lawsuit was filed in August by the American Civil Liberties Union on behalf of Ali and the brothers. Wallace joined the case in January.
Besides Mumme, the lawsuit named university vice president and provost William Flores and the school's board of regents as defendants.
Mumme said the lawsuit was a distraction. With it now behind him, he said he can focus on what he was hired to do: ``coach football and help these fine student-athletes have the best experience possible from their playing days.''
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