Minnesota coach assertively backs players after boycott

Minnesota football Coach Tracy Claeys doubled down Sunday on his support for players who boycotted practices and threatened to skip a bowl game if 10 teammates suspended after a sexual assault investigation weren’t reinstated. 

Speaking publicly for the first time since a standoff between 110 Golden Gophers football players and the administration, Claeys said he understands the players’ frustration with a Title IX investigation they felt was unfair to teammates who were accused of assaulting a woman at an off-campus dorm in September. 

“As kids, they have no problem being held to a higher standard than the university requires and should require,” Claeys said after the team’s practice. “This is all about the due process.” 

Claeys also clarified a comment he made on WCCO radio Sunday morning when he said he was risking his job by supporting the players. The coach said he was just advising his players of possible ramifications during a team meeting on Thursday, before the team made the announcement to boycott. 

“I was a sounding board for them and it was their decision,” Claeys said. “I made sure to make sure that they knew what the possible fallouts could be and we went through all those things. I was there to make sure that they were doing it for the right reasons and they knew what the consequences could be.” 

The boycott ended Saturday when the players said they would play in the Dec. 27 Holiday Bowl against Washington State in San Diego, even though officials declined to reinstate their suspended teammates. The players agreed after getting assurances that those accused would get a fair hearing next month.

After the team announced the boycott Thursday, Claeys publicly backed his players on Twitter: “Have never been more proud of our kids. I respect their rights [and] support their effort to make a better world!” 

Claeys said Sunday he wished he had chosen his words more carefully in the tweet, but he did not regret sending it. “If you just show support for the players behind closed doors, you’re going to have a group of them that don’t believe you,” he said. “I needed to do that in a public way.” 

University officials announced the suspensions Tuesday after an internal investigation determined the 10 players violated school conduct codes in an encounter involving a woman and several players at an off-campus apartment Sept. 2. 

According to the police report, the woman told police that she had consensual sex with two males that night but did not consent to sexual contact with other men, including players. According to the university’s more detailed internal report, she told university investigators she believed 10 to 20 men had sex with her that night, though she wasn’t sure because she had memory gaps from drinking. Prosecutors declined to press charges, saying there was insufficient evidence.

Etc.

Former Minnesota football coach Jerry Kill, the 2014 Big Ten coach of the year who retired after last season because of the effects of epilepsy, reportedly will be hired as offensive coordinator at Rutgers, replacing Drew Mehringer, who is joining Tom Herman’s staff at Texas.

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