What you need to know about the Gophers football boycott

An explainer on why the team members were suspended, what’s next and the events in between.

Senior wide receiver Drew Wolitarsky, right, recites a prepared statement for reporters on Thurs. Dec. 15, 2016 as quarterback Mitch Leidner, left, stands next to him at the Gibson-Nagurski Football Complex.

Chris Dang / Minnesota Daily

Senior wide receiver Drew Wolitarsky, right, recites a prepared statement for reporters on Thurs. Dec. 15, 2016 as quarterback Mitch Leidner, left, stands next to him at the Gibson-Nagurski Football Complex.

by Mike Hendrickson

On Thursday, the University of Minnesota football team announced they would boycott all football activities — including a Dec. 27 bowl game — until athletics director Mark Coyle lifted the suspensions on 10 players for their connection to an alleged Sept. 2 sexual assault.

Here’s an explainer on why the team members were suspended, what’s next and the events in between.

Why are the players boycotting the bowl game?

The Gophers football team is boycotting the bowl game because they want the suspensions of 10 of their teammates lifted by Athletics Director Mark Coyle.

Why were the players suspended from team activities?

The ten players were suspended for their involvement in an alleged Sept. 2 sexual assault.

Who decided to suspend the players?

The suspension was announced Tuesday night. On Wednesday, University President Eric Kaler and Coyle released statements about their decision to suspend the players. In his statement, Coyle said head football coach Tracy Claeys agreed with the decision.

On Thursday, senior wide receiver Drew Wolitarsky read off a prepared statement during a news conference that said Claeys was not involved in the decision to suspend the players.

After the conference, Coyle and Kaler issued a joint statement, affirming their decision. Claeys was not mentioned in the statement.

Claeys tweeted his support for the team Thursday night: “Have never been more proud of our kids. I respect their rights & support their effort to make a better world!”

When were the players suspended?

The 10 players — Ray Buford, Carlton Djam, Seth Green, KiAnte Hardin, Dior Johnson, Tamarion Johnson, Kobe McCrary, Antonio Shenault, Mark Williams and Antoine Winfield Jr. — were suspended Tuesday night.

Why were those players the 10 suspended?

The players were all either recommended for expulsion, suspension or probation by the University’s Office of Equal Opportunity and Affirmative Action for their connection to the alleged Sept. 2 sexual assault.

What does the EOAA office do?

EOAA investigates complaints of sexual assault and harassment, stalking, relationship violence and retaliation, according to their website. After investigating a report, EOAA decides if a violation “more likely than not” occurred. Findings are sent to the University’s Office for Student Conduct and Academic Integrity, which informs both parties of proposed sanctions.

Did the police investigate the reported assault?

Yes. The potential victim reported the sexual assault to police on Sept. 3. Four of the players — Buford, Hardin, Dior Johnson and Tamarion Johnson — were being investigated for their involvement in the incident. 

On Oct. 3, the Hennepin County Attorney’s Office declined to pursue charges against the players. None of the players were arrested.

What happened during the police investigation?

Claeys suspended the four players, but reinstated them after the Hennepin County Attorney’s Office declined to pursue charges.

The players missed three games as a result of the suspension.

Then what?

The players participated in all football activities until the victim from the alleged Sept. 2 assault issued restraining orders against all four players, plus two additional teammates (though one restraining order, against Kiondre Thomas, was lifted two days later). 

The restraining orders barred the players from TCF Bank Stadium, meaning that while they were still on the team, they could not play in home games.

Were the restraining orders lifted?

Yes. The restraining orders were lifted on Nov. 2 after a settlement was reached between five of the players and the victim. The five players are ordered to stay at least 20 feet away from the victim. “It’s a great, reasonable [agreement],” Lee Hutton, the players’ attorney, told the Minnesota Daily at the time. “The goal for all parties was just to put this chapter behind everyone.”

The victim-survivor also made her only public statement, so far, at the time: “I’m glad that this is over. This has never been about punishing anyone. I just want to feel safe. Because of the resolution we came to, now I can.”

When will there be a decision on whether the Gophers will go to the Holiday Bowl in San Diego?

Unclear. An ESPN reporter tweeted Thursday night that the Holiday Bowl would make a decision within 48 hours on whether Minnesota will be replaced by Northern Illinois University, the team next in line. That would give the team another 24 hours from Friday night until the Holiday Bowl makes their final decision.

Would the Gophers lose any money by forfeiting their spot in the bowl?

Yes. The payout for the Holiday Bowl game was $2.83 million in 2015 and 2014. There is additional revenue the team would lose from advertising and ticket sales.

Are the coaches supporting the players’ decision to boycott?

Yes. Multiple coaches have publicly supported the players’ decision, including Claeys, defensive coordinator Jay Sawvel and linebacker coach Mike Sherels. Not every coach has voiced their support, though none has publicly condemned the boycott.

What will happen to Claeys’ contract extension?

Reports surfaced Nov. 28 that Claeys contract — which will expire at the end of the 2018 season — would likely be extended sometime in the near future. After the reports came out, Coyle said Claeys would be the team’s football coach next year.

There is no recent report on how these events may affect Claeys’ job status.

Click here for a timeline of events leading up to the Gophers football team’s boycott.

Correction: A previous version of this article mischaracterized the nature of the Hennepin County Attorney Office’s decision. We regret this error.