University of Minnesota men’s basketball star Reggie Lynch won’t be allowed to play in games but will remain on the team as he appeals his suspension and ban from campus over a finding that he is responsible for sexual misconduct in an 18-month-old case.
A source close to Lynch said Friday that the 23-year-old, in his final year of athletic eligibility, denies the misconduct. He can still practice with the team and remains an enrolled student but athletic director Mark Coyle said Lynch won’t play.
The 6-foot-10, 265-pound center, an Edina native, has been considered an NBA prospect because of his height, expansive reach and shot-blocking ability. But his impressive performances on the court, including being named Big Ten defensive player of the year for the 2016-17 season, have been eclipsed by complaints of sexual misconduct with young women.
His suspension Friday came after an investigation by the university’s Office of Equal Opportunity and Affirmative Action (EOAA) that began last fall when a woman filed a report saying she was sexually assaulted on April 28, 2016, by Lynch in his room at Roy Wilkins Hall. Late Thursday, the woman was informed that an investigator had found Lynch “responsible” for the misconduct.
In a letter to the woman and Lynch that was obtained by the Star Tribune, the EOAA said that, barring an appeal by Tuesday, Lynch would be suspended from campus until Aug. 1, 2020. The source close to Lynch said he will appeal, seeking a hearing by the Student Sexual Misconduct Subcommittee (SSMS). The SSMS would issue its own decision. The hearing process can take weeks or months and is not open to the public.
In successive news conferences Friday at Williams Arena, Coyle and coach Richard Pitino answered questions without offering additional information into the current investigation or Lynch’s future. The two repeatedly cited student privacy laws and said they had handled the situation properly. University President Eric Kaler issued a written five-sentence statement through an aide, saying he supports Coyle and couldn’t comment on any specifics.
Asked about his recruitment of Lynch, who played two seasons at Illinois State, Pitino said, “We do a lot of background, and we never saw any red flags.”
As required by the National College Athletic Association (NCAA), Lynch sat out the 2015-16 season, his first season after his transfer.
Before he ever played a game for the Gophers, he was arrested and booked into the Hennepin County jail over a separate complaint by a 19-year-old woman who claimed Lynch assaulted her in an on-campus apartment in May 2016. (The two cases involve different women.)
He was suspended from the team at the time of that arrest but reinstated soon after when Hennepin County Attorney Mike Freeman declined to press charges, citing insufficient evidence. The university also cleared Lynch in that case.
The following season, 2016-17, Lynch became the starting center and was named Big Ten Defensive Player of the Year. He was a core player in the largest bounceback in Gophers basketball history, which saw the team climb from an eight-win season in 2015-16 to 24 wins and a berth in the 2017 NCAA tournament.
The report from the latest complaint hasn’t been made public so the details are unknown.
In the EOAA letter to the alleged victim, the investigator said the university defines sexual misconduct as “any nonconsensual behavior of a sexual nature that is committed by force or intimidation, or that is otherwise unwelcome.” That includes “sexual assault, relationship violence, stalking, and sexual or gender-based harassment.”
Coyle and Pitino repeatedly said they’d properly followed protocols in handling the complaint and decided together Friday morning to suspend Lynch from games but not the team.
A source close to Lynch said he met with the team Friday after he was informed of his suspension. The source didn’t provide details of what he said.
Coyle said he was “not aware” of the university having forwarded the matter to police. The university Police Department said Friday it has no pending case on Lynch from April 2016.
Asked whether university policies were adequate to address cases of potential sexual misconduct by players and students, Pitino shrugged and said, “I’m just a basketball coach, I don’t know.”
Staff writers Marcus Fuller and Maura Lerner contributed to this report.