Dienhart: Minnesota boycott goes on

Jesse Johnson-USA TODAY Sports

Dienhart: Minnesota boycott goes on

The showdown between Minnesota football players and the administration continues, as the Golden Gophers participation in the Holiday Bowl remains tenuous.

On Thursday, players announced they are boycotting all practices and team activities and maybe even the December 27th Holiday Bowl vs. Washington State over the indefinite suspension of 10 players.

 

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Minnesota players want school president Eric Kaler and A.D. Mark Coyle to apologize and lift the suspensions of Ray Buford, Carlton Djam, Seth Green, KiAnte Hardin, Dior Johnson, Tamarion Johnson, Kobe McCrary, Antonio Shenault, Mark Williams and Antoine Winfield Jr.

On Friday, Kaler issued a statement. And it sounds like the school’s brass isn’t going to budge. The entire statement, plus a joint message from Kaler and Coyle to all Minnesota student-athletes, can be found here. A portion of Kaler’s statement is quoted below.

 

“A bowl game is a wonderful reward for an excellent football season. It is my hope that our eligible football players, marching band, spirit squad and loyal fans take advantage of this opportunity,” said Kaler in a statement. “However, the University of Minnesota will not change our values or our code of conduct for the sake of a bowl game.”

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The suspensions are the result of a sexual assault investigation by Minnesota’s Equal Opportunity and Affirmative Action (EOAA).

The suspensions trace their roots to an incident that happened at the start of the 2016 season. The school subsequently suspended four players — Buford, Hardin, Dior Johnson and Tamarion Johnson — for an unspecified violation of team rules. They missed three games while police investigated. The players were reinstated when Hennepin County declined to press charges. No arrests were made in the alleged incident.

But the university’s office of EOAA conducted its own investigation, which led to these latest suspensions. Universities have a process of investigating sexual assaults that is different than the legal system of investigation. It’s a protocol designed to protect students. This is where the presumed disconnect is for players: there were no criminal charges vs. the players, but the school’s EOAA investigation still must feel something wrong went on and the suspensions are merited.

Legal experts have told the St. Paul Pioneer Press that a Title IX investigation has a lower threshold to determine accountability than police investigations and standards in the state or federal legal system. Instead of having to prove “beyond a reasonable doubt,” a Title IX investigation uses a “preponderance of evidence,” which is supposed to favor the side with more convincing evidence and the probability of its truth and accuracy.

If the team ultimately plays the bowl without the suspended players, it will be handicapped greatly. Two of the suspended players start in the secondary: Winfield, Jr. and Hardin. And their backups—Buford and Shenault—also are among the suspended. That’s bad news facing a Washington State team that is No. 2 in the nation in passing (370.8 ypg).

Reports have indicated that Northern Illinois is slated to take the place of Minnesota in the Holiday Bowl. The Huskies are just 5-7 but won four of their last five games. It would be NIU’s ninth bowl in a row. Northern Illinois played in the 2012 Orange Bowl vs. Florida State. Interestingly, much of the Minnesota staff worked at Northern Illinois under Jerry Kill prior to coming to Minneapolis.

Tom Dienhart, BTN.com Senior Writer

About Tom Dienhart: BTN.com senior writer Tom Dienhart is a veteran sports journalist who covers Big Ten football and men's basketball for BTN.com and BTN TV. Find him on Twitter and Facebook, and send him questions to his weekly mailbag.

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