An external review of the University of Minnesota’s sexual assault investigation last year found that the school complied with federal law and institutional policy throughout. But it also noted “weak leadership” and poor communication by the football coaching staff as partially responsible for the team’s brief call to boycott an upcoming bowl game.
The review covers the university’s response after a student reported that seh was sexually assaulted by multiple football players after the 2016 season opener. Local law enforcement investigated and decided not to bring charges, saying that it wasn’t a winnable criminal case. (A police report is available here.) The school conducted a separate investigation, as required by the federal government and suspended 10 players, with five of them recommended for expulsion. That lead the rest of the team to announce a boycott, which they later decided to drop after the 80-page university investigative report was leaked. The report included a graphic description of the alleged sexual assault, text messages sent by the players that night, and other evidence that police didn’t reference in their reports.
The independent review presented to the university’s Board of Regents today was not tasked with seeing if the punishments handed out were appropriate, but with seeing if Minnesota officials followed their own policies and federal laws, as noted by the St. Paul Pioneer Press. After interviewing more than two dozen people—including athletics director Mark Coyle and former head football coach Tracy Claeys, who was fired shortly after the team’s bowl game victory in part for his initial public support of his players’ boycott—the review determined that the school had been in compliance with all relevant laws and policies throughout the disciplinary process.
The review, done by the law firm Dorsey & Whitney, also lists several recommendations and areas for improvement within the school’s process of handling sexual assault allegations in general and those against student-athletes in particular. It notes the “substantial authority [of] coaches and the Athletics Director to impose discipline in furtherance of team discipline” and suggests that the university evaluate whether those parties are given too much unchecked power.
There also is a section of the review dedicated to examining the circumstances that led players to publicly announce a boycott of their own team with the support of their coach, only to rescind it two days later after the details of their teammates’ suspension were made public. The review blames, among other factors:
- A lack of understanding by student-athletes and Athletics Department personnel of the Student Conduct Code disciplinary process
- ...Weak leadership by the football team coaching staff; and
- Impaired communications and a breakdown in trust between the University leadership and the football team due in part to the University leadership’s inability to share private student information.
Of the five players recommended for expulsion, four were expelled and one had his punishment downgraded to a one-year suspension. (Of the four that were expelled, three transferred to new schools.) Four of the five remaining players who had been suspended had their one-year suspension sentences overturned by an appeal panel or, in the case of one player, the provost. The fifth player suspended for the bowl game had been recommended just for probation, which was also overturned by an appeal panel.
The review can be found in full below: