MINNEAPOLIS - An outside review says the University of Minnesota followed law and policy properly when it suspended 10 football players last fall following an accusation of sexual assault by a female student associated with the football program.
The review released Wednesday blamed "weak leadership" by then-head coach Tracy Claeys and his coaching staff for a threat by remaining players to boycott the Holiday Bowl. The Dorsey and Whitney law firm's review also says administrators and regents could have done a better job managing the threatened boycott.
Other factors the Dorsey and Whitney review say led to the high-profile boycott include:
- Underlying alleged misconduct by players
- Lack of understanding by both student athletes and Athletics Department personnel of the Student Conduct Code Disciplinary Process
- Impaired communication and breakdown in trust between University leadership and the football team
The crisis began when a student accused several players of sexually assaulting her at a party last September. Hennnepin County prosecutors declined to file criminal charges, citing insufficient evidence, but the university suspended the players from football activities following an internal investigation.
Things became more inflamed when Claeys publicly backed the boycott by his student athletes, but the players ultimately decided to play in their bowl game and beat Washington State 17-12. Claeys was fired a week later.
"You had the football team saying they would boycott the event. I think one of the contributing factors to that, as we said in the report, was that there were some leadership deficiencies," said John Marti, attorney with Dorsey & Whitney.
The ten players who were recommended for discipline by the University plead their case to a hearing panel. That panel and further appeals exonerated five of them.
John Marti and Jillian Kornblatt were part of the outside council the Board of Regents tasked with examining whether the University followed the law -- and its own policies -- throughout the ordeal. And they found, yes, the school did.
"The process worked in the way it was intended," Marti said.
Now it will be up to the Board of Regents to evaluate the report and decide what to do with the attorney's suggestions.
"I think we've got to be better," said Regent Thomas J. Anderson.
Some suggestions given by the lawyers include simplifying the student-athlete code of conduct to standardize violations and possible punishment and more clearly define the process.
Dorsey and Whitney says there is much to be learned from what happened, including that more focus should be placed on the Board of Regents and U of M Administration working together, and speaking with just one voice for a more unified message.