If bowl officials had spent any time with the university’s report on the incident that led to player suspensions and a short-lived boycott, they might have found a more deserving group on which to bestow a San Diego vacation.
Until Friday night, all sides involved in one of the worst chapters in the sordid recent history of Gophers revenue sports were in danger of making mistakes of lasting consequence.
The players accused of sexual misconduct, who had already marred the life of a young woman, did further damage to the university’s reputation.
The players who threatened to boycott the bowl game in support of their accused teammates chose the wrong patch of quicksand on which to take an ethical stand.
The head coach, Tracy Claeys, tweeted support for the boycotting players, praising them for making the world a “better place’’ by supporting their teammates’ misdeeds.
University leadership displayed little courage or communicativeness until forced to by the boycott.
Until Friday night, this appeared to be another case of administration mismanagement — if not of the case, then of their role as public figures and communicators.
Athletic director Mark Coyle looked weak when he met with players on Wednesday, failed to make them understand the seriousness of the allegations against the accused, and stammered in a remarkably brief meeting with reporters.
University President Eric Kaler and Coyle looked weak when they hid behind privacy concerns to avoid making strong or lengthy public comments.
Then, it appears, they lied.
They said or intimated that Claeys supported the punishments of the players involved. Claeys’ tweet contradicted that.
Until Friday night, the players were resolute and determined for all of the wrong reasons while the administration managed to look weak and duplicitous while trying to sanction sexual misconduct. The U athletic department remained the Frozen Swamp.
That’s why the events of Friday night and Saturday morning may rank among the most important for the university and the athletic department in recent decades.
Kaler and Coyle made the boycotting players understand what they were trying to defend. The boycotting players recognized that they were making a mistake. And on Saturday morning, when Coyle looked eager to run for the exit, Kaler presented himself as a reasonable and effective leader when speaking to the media.
University officials like to defend their frequent lack of transparency by citing privacy laws, but they would be far better off explaining the privacy laws and answering whatever questions they can rather than using the privacy laws to justify hiding from the public.
Belatedly, Kaler communicated effectively to the players and the public.
This remains a disgusting series of events. That a recruit was a part of the group of players engaging in the acts detailed by the university report reflects poorly on the football staff, as well as the players. Claeys chose to side with players who were in the wrong rather than his bosses. And the boycott will remain a national embarrassment even in its aftermath.
When speaking with loyal alumni about Minnesota’s revenue sports, what you usually hear are two sentences uttered consecutively:
“I love that place.’’
“What a mess.’’
The player boycott revealed a deep lack of trust, respect and communicativeness between the football program and the administration.
Jerry Kill never seemed to have much admiration for Minnesota bosses. It’s doubtful the program he left behind has adopted a new opinion.
The boycott is over, the Gophers will play, but the cheerfully named Holiday Bowl will mostly serve as a reminder of Minnesota’s latest scandal.
Strangely, it was Kaler who saved the day. Whether this is a football program worth salvaging remains to be seen.
The Holiday Bowl should have taken the Gophers up on their boycott when it had the chance.