Gophers drop bowl boycott, but turmoil remains

John Gilbert

Jake Wilson went up for a jump shot and made 11 points as UMD’s bench outscored 9-1 Wisconsin-Parkside 39-25, but the 1-9 Bulldogs lost 85-76 Monday at Romano Gym. Photo credit: John Gilbert
Jake Wilson went up for a jump shot and made 11 points as UMD’s bench outscored 9-1 Wisconsin-Parkside 39-25, but the 1-9 Bulldogs lost 85-76 Monday at Romano Gym. Photo credit: John Gilbert

The turmoil has subsided for now, and the University of Minnesota’s beleaguered football team is on its way to San Diego for the holidays. Make that the Holiday Bowl. After a week of on-again, off-again, back on-again, the Golden Gophers will go to San Diego to face Washington State in the Holiday Bowl on December 27.
Unless you’ve been on Neptune, you’ve heard the stories and perhaps you’ve even studied the sordid details. Opinions have run up and down like a roller coaster, siding with the players, then siding with the administration, then siding with the players again...and, oh yeah, how about the victim.
Piecing together the facts as we have them, a young woman student who works in the game-day functions at TCF Bank Stadium on game days went home to her Dinkytown apartment after the Gophers beat Oregon State to open the season. She had a few vodka drinks, then she and friends went out to a few places in Dinkytown. While there, she met and talked with a football player. One thing led to another, and the football player – who reportedly was escorting a recruit at the time – invited her up to his room. She agreed, and we realize she was a bit inebriated. Once there, she recalled being surprised when the player took her to his bedroom.
She claims she is unaware of how things got sexy, but one thing led to another and before long she was in bed with the player. Then there were more players. She was a bit foggy, but said at one point she thought there were 10 or 12 players -- we don’t know if the recruit was among them, or just a wide-eyed bystander. She said she tried to stop the continued stream of sex, but recalled that the players were pretty much cheering each other on.  An hour and a half later, it was over. She called her mother and sister, who called the hospital and police. She was tested and the examination reportedly corroborated her claim of multiple sexual assaults.
In the days that followed, some players came up with videos of the action, in which the alleged victim didn’t seem to be too strenuous in resisting or refusing. A couple of other players called her up and recorded conversations with her in which she didn’t sound all that accusatory.
The police made a thorough examination and decided there was not enough evidence to file charges. And 10 witnesses against one claiming the sex was consensual was pretty lopsided. I remember media people in the Twin Cities saying they were welcoming the players back, making it sound like the failure to file charges meant the players were innocent. No. Failure to charge, and failure to prosecute are a long way from assuming “innocence.”
However, and this is a major sticking point, there are separate rules over and above legal stipulations that say the university has a different set of rules that assess the evidence determines the violation was likely to have taken place, then university rules take precedence, and the five players involved in the incident, and five more who were in the room at the time, were suspended indefinitely. The university also has strict privacy rules that preclude any disclosure of private information. Even injuries in sports are now generalized “upper body,” or “lower body” without being specific. That handcuffed university president Eric Kaler and athletic director Mark Coyle, who couldn’t disclose much of the privileged information. They got ripped for it by people who don’t understand the legalities.
The players were fanned to a fever pitch by attorneys and they declared they were going to boycott all football activity including the Holiday Bowl in a unified show of support for their 10 teammates, and declared that their move was to seek due process and transparency in the administration’s handling of the case.
Always straining for political correctness, Kaler and Coyle announced that football coach Tracy Claeys had made the decision to suspend the players. That apparently was untrue. After the players announced their boycott, Claeys announced he had never been prouder of his players. That, of course, immediately established Claeys as being against his bosses, and possibly in favor of entitlement up to and including sexual assault for his players – underachieving though they seem.
Last Friday night, the 82 page document of all the sordid details had been made public by KDAL TV in St. Paul, and the players got their hands on it. One report said that some players were very shaken by the hard facts of the case. It was rumored some were shaken enough that they decided they should drop the boycott and play after all. That, of course, leaves Coach Claeys hanging out on his own limb.
After the uproar subsided, some players expressed hostility and said the facts of the 82-page report had nothing to do with them changing their minds. Too bad; there was a chance there for them to take the obvious high road and we would all understand that they didn’t realize the severity of the issue. The latest reports are that the players thought boycotting would end their season and they would disburse, where dropping it and playing the game would at least give them another couple of weeks to push their case for due process.
The story has become national news. And there remains a few questions to me. For one, if you were a hot-blooded young football stud and you had a chance for what you claim is “consensual” sex, would you want 10 teammates in the room with you? And if you were one of the 10 teammates, would you want to be in the room with your buddy? And wasn’t there a single one of the players in the room who might have suggested, “Hey, guys, I don’t think this is a very good idea...”?
There are those who immediately assume a young woman in such circumstances should have known better, or maybe was just trying to capitalize, or had fabricated the whole thing. I ask you, in the name of simple common sense, what young woman would fabricate such a story, knowing that she ultimately would face ridicule from all those who think that athletes are innocent unless, and until, proven guilty. Her reluctance to make a huge issue out of this is pretty good evidence that she fears such reprisal.
Then there’s the recruit. At a place like Minnesota, there is never just one recruit. I’d like to know how many were there, and if all of them had been turned over, unsupervised, to some young hotshot players who would take them out to some near-campus bars for a “good time.” Not knowing where they were, or that they were unsupervised, makes for a rowdy bunch of 18-19 year olds, and it is a textbook example of what the NCAA likes to call “a lack of institutional control.” It happened on a couple of cases I was following at the University of Minnesota years ago, when an athletic director thought he was covering his guilt by insisting he didn’t know the details, to which the NCAA said he should have known, and not knowing was a lack of institutional control.
It is a mess, and it won’t go away. Before it all started, I thought the Gophers were in for a tough game with Washington State in the Holiday Bowl. Gopher quarterback Mitch Leidner threw 7 touchdown passes this season and the Gophers went 5-4 in the Big Ten; Washington State went 7-2 for second in the Pac 12 northern division, and quarterback Luke Falk threw 37 touchdown passes and averages over 350 passing yards per game.
Washington State is coached by Mike Leach, who was coaching Texas Tech in 2006 when they faced the Gophers in the Insight Bowl. The Gophers led by 31, but Leach’s Texas Tech outfit came back and won 44-41, and Glen Mason was fired as Gopher coach after the team returned to Minnesota. The Holiday Bowl in San Diego is next Tuesday at 6 p.m. on ESPN, and there is a chance that if the Gophers can’t compete with Washington State, it might be Tracy Claeys’s last game as Gopher coach, too. But it would be for other reasons.