J Robinson’s apparent decision to self-police the alleged drug problem within his Gophers wrestling program could end his storied career.
If the details a Gophers wrestler gave to the Star Tribune this week are confirmed in an ongoing university police investigation, Robinson would have violated his contract terms, violated university policy and, according to a Minneapolis attorney, broke the law.
“The alleged serious behavior, if true, is unacceptable and will not be tolerated,” University of Minnesota President Eric Kaler wrote in a statement Thursday about the “students and staff” involved in the investigation.
The wrestler, who spoke to the Star Tribune on the condition of anonymity, said four teammates had 2,500 pills of the prescription sedative Xanax, which they were selling for $5 to $8 a pill. The source said Robinson told the team he knew who was selling and taking the Xanax and coaxed confession letters from them, promising to grant them amnesty.
The source said wrestlers turned over 1,400 Xanax pills to Robinson, but the 69-year-old coach did not notify police, so the source went to university police himself.
Robinson now could face several criminal charges, ranging from obstruction of justice to felony drug possession, according to Minneapolis defense attorney Ryan Pacyga.
The coach could be charged with obstruction of justice or interfering with an investigation if he was involved in destroying any of the pills, Pacyga said, adding, “[A felony charge] would be if law enforcement wanted to be nasty with the guy.”
Robinson, who has coached the Gophers to three national championships in his 30-plus years at Minnesota, did not respond to messages left on his phone. The statement from Kaler, who was not made available for interviews, continued: “There is currently an ongoing investigation, and at the request of authorities we are delaying a thorough internal investigation until the University of Minnesota Police Department’s (UMPD) work has concluded so as to not compromise the criminal investigation.
“It is our intention to fully investigate the concerning allegations involving our students and staff, but we will not do so until we are informed by UMPD that our actions will not interfere in any way with their work.”
University police have not forwarded a case to the Hennepin County attorney’s office to consider for possible charges, an office spokesman said Thursday.
Selling Xanax without proper prescribing and dispensing procedures is a felony. Robinson’s decision to try to fix the problem on his own could also reach that legal level, but Board of Regents chair Dean Johnson is among those waiting to see what the investigation uncovers.
“My gut feeling is when he found out, he acted in a fatherly way, as opposed to being a coach, and wanted to give the young men opportunities to fix it,” Johnson said. “But if there are violations of the law or of the NCAA [rules], that’s another matter.”
Xanax is not on the NCAA’s banned substance list, which focuses on performance-enhancing drugs and street drugs such as marijuana, heroin and synthetic cannabinoids. Other prescription drugs not on the banned substance list include Percocet and Vicodin.
As for Robinson’s role, the NCAA leaves it up to member institutions and local law enforcement to handle potential criminal violations.
Robinson’s contract, which runs through 2020, says the university can suspend payments or terminate him without paying any buyout if he violates “any policy of the university or law involving moral turpitude.”
The university’s policy addressing concerns of misconduct says that “anyone who in good faith believes that a violation of the law will occur, is occurring or has occurred at the university should report their concern.”
Marc Edelman, a national sports law expert, said Robinson would have been best off reporting the alleged drug issue to university officials.
“In most cases, a wrestling coach is not trained in law, the investigative process or even the university’s own protocol for investigating wrongdoing,” said Edelman, an associate law professor at the Zicklin School of Business in New York. “He should have sought guidance from the university’s dean of discipline and the university’s general counsel, even if his intentions were magnanimous and pure.”
Under Robinson, Minnesota’s wrestling program has become one of the nation’s best. He took the Minnesota job in 1986, won the program’s first national championship in 2001 — and two more after that in 2002 and 2007 — and six Big Ten team titles. He has been national coach of the year three times and coached 14 individual national champions and over 60 All-Americas.