Gophers vary in suspension policy

The University of Minnesota has head coaches and the athletics director determine the length and possibility of suspensions.

by Michael Rietmulder

The University of MinnesotaâÄôs student-athletes âÄúare expected to represent themselves, their team and the University with honesty, integrity and character whether academically, athletically or socially,âÄù according to the student-athlete code of conduct. While neither academic ineptitude nor in-game player conduct has recently besmirched coaches Tim Brewster and Tubby SmithâÄôs programs, Gophers players as of late have had difficulty maintaining their composure in the social arena. Though the UniversityâÄôs athletics department is certainly not the only Division I program grappling with difficult suspension decisions, it undoubtedly has among the highest number of recent issues. This fall a string of off-field incidents began with Gophers sophomore linebacker Gary TinsleyâÄôs citation for underage drinking and fleeing from University police after a Dinkytown brawl on Sept. 27. Though other football players were allegedly present, no other citations were made. Tinsley has not been suspended from the team. Two days later, senior defensive end Cedric McKinley and sophomore safety Tim Dandridge were suspended two games for violating unspecified team rules. Fast forward through a relatively placid month of October to when freshman defensive back Michael Carter was arrested and charged with underage consumption and obstructing the legal process on Nov. 2. Carter allegedly attempted to pick a fight outside of a Dinkytown pizza parlor. Carter has not been suspended. Most suspensions are levied by head coaches, with more severe incidents handled by Athletics Director Joel Maturi , according to Senior Associate Athletics Director Regina Sullivan . Some schools, including the University, have minimum disciplinary measures for certain types of infractions, but the amount of discretion coaches have in determining suspensions can make it difficult to entirely ensure consistency in punishments across different sports. Sullivan said the department does look to past incidents for precedent although âÄúevery case is different.âÄù The University handles disciplinary decisions similar to Oregon University, which ran into player suspension problems after a football game against Boise State University. After the game, Boise State defensive end Byron Hout taunted OregonâÄôs star running back LeGarrette Blount , yelling in his face. Blount responded with a stern jab to HoutâÄôs face. Blount was suspended for the rest of the season following the scuffle. This meant that the senior with National Football League prospects had played in his last game as an Oregon Duck. But on Monday, Oregon head coach Chip Kelly announced that BlountâÄôs suspension had been lifted and that he will return to action Saturday against Arizona State after missing eight games. Oregon Athletics Director Mike Bellotti said that suspension decisions are generally made by head coaches, though egregious infractions may be brought to him or University President Richard Lariviere . âÄú[University presidents] donâÄôt want to be surprised by something on the front page of the paper,âÄù Bellotti said. In a case similar to BlountâÄôs, University of Florida head coach Urban Meyer suspended senior linebacker Brandon Spikes for the first half of last SaturdayâÄôs game against Vanderbilt University, after Spikes gouged an opposing playerâÄôs eye in a win against Georgia on Oct. 31. MeyerâÄôs decision to suspend Spikes for only half of a game was highly criticized by the national media as being too light. In an unanticipated move, Spikes elected to suspend himself for the entire game, saying he did not wish to be a distraction to the team. When facing issues of player misconduct, coaches are usually the ones responsible for handing out suspensions, even though it can directly interfere with their primary objective âÄî winning games. At the University, menâÄôs basketball coach Tubby Smith does not seem to have trouble taking disciplinary action, even if that means jeopardizing on-court success. On Nov. 2, the same day as CarterâÄôs arrest, Maturi announced that highly-touted recruit Trevor Mbakwe, a junior college transfer, would not play for SmithâÄôs squad pending the outcome of an assault trial scheduled for Dec. 14. The case stems from an April 3 incident in Miami-Dade County, Fla. where Mbakwe was playing for Miami Dade College . A woman who lived in the same apartment complex as Mbakwe alleges that he punched her in the face. Just one day after the Mbakwe announcement, Smith announced his decision to indefinitely suspend senior Devron Bostick and incoming freshman Royce White for violating team rules. White, who was named MinnesotaâÄôs 2009 Mr. Basketball after his senior season at Hopkins High School, is facing misdemeanor theft and assault charges from an Oct. 13 incident at the Mall of America, in which White allegedly shoved a security guard who confronted him for shoplifting. Since his suspension, WhiteâÄôs name has been mentioned as a suspect in a separate theft. Though coaches and athletics directors are the ones who most frequently handle suspensions, they are not always exclusively internal matters. As Oklahoma State UniversityâÄôs football wide receiver Dez Bryant recently found out, suspensions can also be initiated by the NCAA. Bryant was suspended for the remainder of the 2009 season on Oct. 7 after lying to NCAA investigators about meeting and working out with former NFL star Deion Sanders . The University appealed the NCAAâÄôs ruling, though it was rejected last week. An Alternative Approach The University of Wisconsin-Madison has gone to great lengths to try to remove authority on disciplinary matters from the head coaches, establishing the University of Wisconsin-Madison Athletic Board , which plays an integral role in determining the consequences of student-athlete misconduct. The 23-member board is comprised of university faculty, academic staff, alumni and students, all with equal votes. The board is charged with setting academic and eligibility standards, participating in the vetting process for perspective head coaches and acting on issues pertaining to the supervision of the athletics department. When it comes to determining whether or not to suspend players, the board may not be the sole decision maker. According to Athletic Board Chairman and law professor Walter Dickey , some decisions may be left for the head coach or athletics director, depending on the matter. The board has jurisdiction on the more severe incidents, particularly those involving any alleged criminal activity. Dickey said âÄútaking the decision out of the coachâÄôs handsâÄù eliminates a conflict of interest for coaches who are measured by wins and losses. The relationship between the Athletic Board, head coaches, and the athletics director can be characterized as a system of checks and balances. Dickey recalls an instance a few years ago in which a player, dissatisfied with a coachâÄôs suspension decision, appealed to the board in an attempt to overrule the coach. Dickey declined to give the specifics of the case, but stressed how the system is designed to work for the administration, coaches and students alike.