Athletics director overrules code of conduct, clears Mbakwe for practice

Star basketball transfer accused of felony assault received permission to practice in the preseason.

Mike Mullen

Months after junior basketball transfer Trevor Mbakwe was charged with felony assault of a woman in Miami, University of Minnesota Athletics Director Joel Maturi gave him permission to practice with the team. The decision announced Tuesday lifts the automatic suspension enforced by the UniversityâÄôs student-athlete code of conduct. No decision has been made on whether Mbakwe, who was attending Miami Dade College when the alleged assault took place, will be able to practice or play during the season when it begins in November. The UniversityâÄôs student-athlete code of conduct policy states: âÄúStudent-athletes who are alleged (including arrested or charged) to have broken local, state and federal laws will be subject to team and department sanctions upon a case by case review. Violations involving physical and/or sexual violence, use of illegal weapons, or driving while under the influence will be subject to immediate suspension from team activity pending further investigation. The head coach, in consultation with the athletics director (or his/her designee), will impose sanctions.âÄù After extensively consulting with University administrators, faculty, coaches and Mbakwe, Maturi said he thought letting Mbakwe practice wouldnâÄôt harm anyone. âÄúI believe that to allow him to practice was quite frankly not a difficult decision,âÄù he said. Neither Mbakwe nor Gophers head coach Tubby Smith were available for comment. Last week, Mbakwe was cleared by the Office of Admissions to attend classes. Past issues set no precedent In April 2007, three University football players were arrested on suspicion of sexual assault. Charges were never filed against them, but a fourth, Dominic Jones, was later arrested, charged and acquitted with rape. Also in April 2007, football player Robert McField was suspended when he pleaded guilty to second-degree robbery and armed criminal action. All five of these players were suspended and later dismissed from the team. Later, Maturi did encourage head football coach Tim Brewster to reinstate one of the dismissed players, but Brewster declined. âÄúQuite frankly, since I have been here I have lifted the suspension of some who have been charged, and I have not lifted the suspension of others who have been charged,âÄù Maturi said. âÄúI take it on a case-by-case basis.âÄù Maturi said that his own judgment had the greatest impact on the decision. Once the decision came down that Mbakwe would be a student, Maturi said he felt he should be cleared to take part in team activities. âÄúIf Trevor is innocent, it certainly is a shame what heâÄôs going through and tremendously unfortunate,âÄù Maturi said. âÄúAnd for me to not allow him to practice would be sad in some ways. If he is guilty, I donâÄôt believe there is any danger in allowing him to practice.âÄù Mbakwe, a St. Paul native, attended Marquette University two years ago, but played only sparsely due to injury. He transferred to Miami Dade College for the 2008-09 season but was visiting Minnesota as early as October 2008 to inquire about transferring back to his home state. Later that month he committed to the Gophers, citing the new atmosphere of the basketball program under Smith. Maturi has until the first week in November to rule on MbakweâÄôs ability to practice and play in the regular season. Because MbakweâÄôs trial date âÄî scheduled for December 14 âÄî comes well after the official start to the basketball season, Maturi will again need to make a decision before a legal resolution is reached. âÄúTo allow him to play is a different situation and that decision obviously still has to be made,âÄù Maturi said.