After 10 players are suspended, the rest of the team walks out
A lawyer for the players says it stems from sexual assault allegations
The University of Minnesota football team is threatening to skip a bowl game in a clash with the school’s administration over the suspension of 10 players – a standoff that could lead to a decision Saturday on whether a different team will play in Minnesota’s place.
Minnesota players began skipping football activities Thursday because 10 teammates were suspended, reportedly in connection with a sexual assault investigation.
The walkout could affect the Holiday Bowl on December 27, when the 8-4 Golden Gophers are scheduled to play the 8-4 Washington State University Cougars.
The Star Tribune newspaper in Minneapolis reported that a “late-night summit” Friday between university President Eric Kaler, school leaders and some of the players “failed to produce an agreement.”
“Barring a surprise compromise by Kaler and the players, a replacement team will play Washington State,” the report said.
The school “needs to decide by noon Saturday, according to sources, and as of late Friday, the players were preparing to make a morning statement, forgoing the bowl,” the newspaper reported.
There are many issues at play in the situation. Here is what is known and what is still in question.
Why were the players suspended?
The university said in a statement that 10 players were suspended indefinitely Tuesday. It didn’t give a reason why the players were suspended, citing privacy restrictions.
The university named the 10 players, but CNN is not naming them because they were not charged with any crimes and it’s not clear why they were suspended.
Four of the players were suspended for several games earlier this season. At the time, Coach Tracy Claeys said the suspensions were for violation of team rules.
Kaler said in a statement Friday night that student-athletes are held to a high standard of conduct and when those standards are unmet, “there are consequences.”
He called the suspensions an athletics department decision based on values.
What role did sexual assault investigation play?
The attorney for the 10 players, Lee Hutton, said by phone Friday this is about allegations of sexual misconduct.
The incident occurred early on September 2 at an off-campus apartment after a Thursday night football game, a Minneapolis police report says.
A 22-year-old woman told police she drank 5-6 shots of 100 proof vodka in the hours before the alleged assault. The police report says she claimed to have sex with several players – some consensual, some not.
The woman alleged that after having consensual sex with two players, at least three more came into the bedroom at different times. She told police at one point she tried to shield herself from them and tried to put her clothes on, but couldn’t. An hour and a half passed from when she first entered the bedroom.
In the police report, detectives say they watched two cell phone videos of some of the players’ encounters with the woman. They said she appeared “lucid, alert” and did “not appear to be objecting to anything.”
After leaving the apartment, the woman went to a hospital and her mother later filed a report with Minneapolis police, the reports indicate.
When interviewed by detectives, all the players involved said the sex was consensual, according to the report.
The woman has not been identified and her name was redacted throughout the police case file.
The Hennepin County Attorney’s Office said in October it wasn’t filing charges.
“There is insufficient, admissible evidence for prosecutors to prove beyond a reasonable doubt that either force was used or that the victim was physically helpless as defined by law in the sexual encounter,” the office said.
The case is considered closed, one of the supplements in the case file says.
What have the players said?
The suspended players have not spoken publicly. But their teammates gathered Thursday in a show of public support for them.
Senior wide receiver Drew Wolitarsky said he was upset that the players weren’t able to remain anonymous.
“We are concerned that our brothers have been named publicly with reckless disregard in violation of their constitutional rights. We are now compelled to speak for our team and take back our program,” he said Thursday.
“Effective immediately we will boycott all football activities. The boycott will remain in effect until due process is followed and the suspensions for all 10 players are lifted.”
Wolitarsky said Thursday the suspensions are the result of a university Title IX investigation. Title IX is a federal law that prohibits sex discrimination, including sexual harassment and sexual assault at universities that receive public funding.
The University of Minnesota’s Office of Equal Opportunity and Affirmative Action looks into complaints of sexual assault. CNN called and emailed the office, asking whether there is an ongoing investigation or a potential hearing, but didn’t get a response.
Last year, the university enacted an “affirmative consent” policy, which explicitly states students cannot engage in sexual activity unless both partners verbally consent. It goes on to say that consent may be “withdrawn at any time,” that “a lack of protest, the absence of resistance and silence do not indicate consent,” and that “consent is not obtained where there is incapacitation due to the influence of drugs or alcohol.”
The Star Tribune newspaper talked to some team members outside Hutton’s office in Minneapolis on Friday. Senior linebacker Nick Rallis told the paper, “When the time is right, I’m sure we’ll have more to say.”
University president Kaler said he and athletic director Mark Coyle have been willing to meet with the players.
What has the coach said?
The university says it consulted with Claeys, who took over last season, in making the decision to suspend the 10 players.
But Claeys tweeted Thursday night, after the boycott was announced: “Have never been more proud of our kids. I respect their rights & support their effort to make a better world!”
CNN sought comment from Claeys but didn’t get an answer Friday.
Will the bowl game be played?
Minnesota probably has only a little time to tell the game’s organizers that it is still coming.
The Holiday Bowl’s backup plan likely would require a third school to step in, as moving dates is impossible.
The bowl game has not announced whether it will seek another team to take Minnesota’s place, if the Gophers bow out.
“We are aware of the player boycott at the University of Minnesota and have been kept apprised on this ongoing situation. The Holiday Bowl is one of the nation’s great bowl games and we remain focused on the preparations for the December 27 National Funding Holiday Bowl,” Mark Neville, the game’s executive director, said.
The logistics of rounding up another team would be difficult.
ESPN reported a possible replacement would be Northern Illinois, but the Huskies would need to know soon because students have gone home and some have graduated.
CBSSports.com says two other teams, Arizona State or the University of California at Berkeley, would be next up on the list of alternates. Both already played Washington State this season.
Will there be a civil law suit?
According to the Star Tribune, the woman who alleged the sexual assault also went to court to get restraining orders against six of the players. A judge granted her request that they not be allowed to enter the football stadium, the paper said.
But later during an appeals hearing, an agreement was reached that neither side would sue the other, and the players would stay 20 feet away from the woman, who reportedly is part of game-day activities at the football stadium.
Could the players lose their scholarships?
Wolitarsky said he doesn’t think so. And it would set the program back several years.
“We’re in this together. What, are they going to pull 120 guys off the team? I mean, they’re not going to have a team if that’s the case,” he told reporters Thursday.
CNN’s Kevin Dotson and Quand Thomas contributed to this report.