U football program battles bad image

Recent allegations of a rape and a new recruit’s suspension soured the new coach’s arrival.

by Mark Remme

Just one week ago, optimistic talk surrounded the Minnesota football team.

After all, first-year coach Tim Brewster’s motivational tactics, such as bringing in former Gophers standouts and clumps of sod from the Rose Bowl in Pasadena, made team members comment about a new attitude and swagger surrounding the program.

But the encouraging signs soon gave way to controversy.

After three players were arrested on Friday in relation to an alleged sexual assault, and news broke that 2006 recruit Robert McField pleaded guilty to two reduced counts of second-degree robbery and one count of armed criminal action, a less flattering image is surrounding the new-look Gophers.

And while Brewster’s tenure began with a bang, the only noise heard now is speculation over the image the football team is portraying for the University.

“(Image concern is) a reality,” University athletics director Joel Maturi said. “I don’t know if the right word is worry, but we’re not happy about it.”

Knowing a recruit’s background is the situation at hand. Maturi said the new coaching staff will have to continue to dig deep to find information about the character of football players before they’re offered scholarships.

And it’s something Brewster will deal with, despite none of these players in the news being his own recruits.

“For Brewster, it’s hard for him to step in and deal with this situation,” environmental studies and forestry senior Mark Kroeze said. “There will be eyes on him and how he cares for his players, deals with them.”

Kroeze noted other Big Ten athletes who signed with teams despite questionable character off the field, specifically citing former Ohio State running back Maurice Clarett, who left school after a controversy involving illegal benefits and money.

While such image problems pop up at other schools related to off-the-field conduct by their football teams, such behavior at Minnesota hasn’t been a normal occurrence.

Listed as 6 feet 6 inches and 235 pounds, McField was a highly successful defensive end out of St. Louis when former coach Glen Mason recruited him.

His ties to Minnesota run through former Gopher running back Laurence Maroney, who graduated from the same high school as McField.

But that’s where the similarities end. McField practiced with the team for just two months before being suspended Oct. 6 when the team learned of the charges, Maturi said.

“We immediately acted appropriately and suspended him,” Maturi said.

Couple that with suspended football players Alex Daniels, E.J. Jones and Keith Massey in connection with an alleged rape investigation, and the once-clean football program might have its hands full cleaning up its reputation before September.

“Big Ten athletics is a big deal to this school,” speech, language and hearing science junior Becky Widen said. “By having such a situation surrounding the school and the athletic department, it’s a disappointment to the student body as well.”

Maturi said the image of Gopher athletics represents the University, and he knows it.

“Our mission statement is to act as a window for the University – we’re the most visible aspect of the University of Minnesota,” Maturi said. “It can be used very positively for the institution or it can be very negative. We take that very seriously.”