After two days of closed-door hearings at the University of Minnesota, a ruling is expected this week on the educational futures of 10 Gophers football players suspended for their alleged roles in a sexual assault.
In more than 20 hours spanning Thursday and Friday afternoons and nights, the three-person Student Sexual Assault Subcommittee, which will make the decision on the players’ appeals, heard from lawyers for the players, the players themselves, the alleged victim and school administrators.
The players, who want to remain enrolled in the university, appealed the penalties recommended for them by the U’s Office of Equal Opportunity and Affirmative Action.
Expulsion from campus has been recommended for five — Ray Buford, Carlton Djam, KiAnte Hardin, Dior Johnson and Tamarion Johnson. One-year suspensions were recommended for Seth Green, Kobe McCrary, Mark Williams and Antoine Winfield Jr. Probation was recommended for Antonio Shenault.
The proposed punishments are the result of an incident last fall in which a female student alleged that she was sexually assaulted at a Dinkytown apartment.
Criminal prosecutors twice declined to press charges against the players, who have said that their sexual activity with the female student was consensual.
Attorney Lee Hutton, who is representing nine of the men, has said “nothing nefarious” happened in the apartment.
All 10 players, some accompanied by their parents, were at Thursday’s and Friday’s hearings with their lawyers.
Attorney Ryan Pacyga, who is representing one player, said the hearings were a “marathon” for the players and everyone else involved.
He said the accused players called on witnesses to testify, including former coach Tracy Claeys, who spoke to the proceedings via phone. “He wasn’t going overboard to try to support the players,” Pacyga said of Claeys’ testimony. “It seemed to be very fair testimony.”
Pacyga said that at the hearings, the U “surprised” him and his client, Antoine Winfield Jr., by clarifying the role Winfield played in the alleged assault.
“The university is not going after [Winfield] for any alleged sexual conduct nor any alleged request for any sexual contact with the reporting student,” Pacyga said.
Winfield is now being accused of being outside the bedroom door during the alleged sexual assault, he said. Pacyga added that others got a similar break, but would not say who.
The U is legally barred from speaking about the hearings.
The allegations shook the football team, athletic department and administration last month. The 10 players were suspended from the team, prompting their teammates to call for a boycott of a bowl game and culminating in the firing of Claeys.
Only two of the three members of the Student Sexual Misconduct Subcommittee that heard the players’ appeals need to agree to uphold — or reject — the punishments.
The standard is much lower than that used in a criminal court. The university panel is asked to determine whether it is “more than likely” that the students violated the code of conduct.
In a criminal court, the standard is “beyond a reasonable doubt,” and jurors must reach a unanimous decision.
The panel’s decision isn’t likely to end the matter. The players have the option of appealing to the provost. If that doesn’t go their way, their lawyers say they will take the case to federal court.