Review: Minnesota properly handled football suspensions

Published 7:40 pm Wednesday, August 16, 2017

MINNEAPOLIS — The University of Minnesota followed law and policy properly when it suspended 10 football players last fall following an accusation of sexual assault, an outside review found.

The review released Wednesday blamed “weak leadership” by the coaching staff for a threat by remaining players to boycott the Holiday Bowl. The Dorsey and Whitney law firm’s review also said administrators and regents could have done a better job managing the threatened boycott.

A student accused several players of sexually assaulting her at a party last September. Prosecutors declined to file criminal charges, citing insufficient evidence. But the university suspended the players following an internal investigation.

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Influence by unnamed outsiders on both the football team and coaching staff also “helped foster a hostile atmosphere where meaningful dialogue was difficult,” the report concluded.

Then-head coach Tracy Claeys backed the boycott, but players ultimately decided to play and beat Washington State 17-12. Claeys was fired a week later. He declined to comment to the Minneapolis Star Tribune .

The university contends it acted properly under federal Title IX guidelines, which require campuses to investigate reports of sexual misconduct.

“We are pleased with the conclusion that the University’s actions were consistent with University policies and federal law,” the university said in a statement Wednesday.

The university’s Board of Regents commissioned the outside review in May. The review was presented Wednesday to a special oversight committee of the board.

Minneapolis attorney John Marti, who conducted the review along with attorney Jillian Kornblatt, told the oversight committee that critics of the player suspensions failed to understand that the university is obligated to investigate sexual assault complaints, even when prosecutors decline to file charges.

“The university did not have a choice,” Marti said. “You were required by law to do so.”

The report found that the threatened boycott resulted from “weak leadership by the football coaching staff” and “impaired communications and a breakdown in trust” between university leadership and the football team “due in part to the University leadership’s inability to share private student information.”

The review also concluded that the boycott may have been managed better “had the Board of Regents collectively, individual Regents, and University administration, the Athletics Department, and football team coaches responded in a more coordinated and unified manner.”

The woman alleged that she was pressured into having sex with multiple Gopher football players after a season-opening win over Oregon State. The players who acknowledged having sex with her called it consensual.

A report by the university’s Equal Opportunity and Affirmative Action department determined the 10 players, including several who did not have sex with the woman, violated the student conduct code. Of the 10 suspended players, one was later expelled, another was suspended for a year, four were cleared, one got probation and three who faced potential expulsion transferred to Arizona Western Community College.