Report: U of M Compliant, but Better Communication Could Have Aided Football Investigation

August 16, 2017 07:27 PM

Two Minneapolis-based lawyers hired to review the University of Minnesota's implementation of policies after an investigation into sexual misconduct allegations against football players found that the Board of Regents, senior leadership and athletics department could have been "better served" by improved communication.

The attorneys, though, ultimately determined no rules, policies or laws were violated by university administration or football staff.

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According to a report issued to the board's special oversight committee Wednesday, the lawyers advised those parties involved in the investigation to "consider implementing a policy defining clear channels for Regent requests and other forms of communications with University staff, including the Athletics Department."

The report goes on to say "such a policy would improve the working relationship and better serve the University."

"I would agree that there is probably a lot of confusion," said Thomas Anderson, a university regent. "I thought there's a great misunderstanding of the different discipline processes."

"It was a difficult time," said John Marti of Dorsey and Whitney, the law firm that put together the report.

Watch Ch. 5 for the latest on the meeting inside the McNamara Alumni Center at 11.

Anderson said the report demonstrates that the university's staff is still doing a good job.

Despite no pressing issues in the report, the review found "weak leadership by the football team coaching staff" leading to the team's boycott late last year. 

"Under the circumstances, the coaching staff had lost control over the team," Marti said. 

The report also found some athletes were influenced by unnamed, confidential third parties. 

"Their influence with the team was substantial, and I think it influenced the decisions of some of the players," Marti said.

"The University of Minnesota needs to be a leader here, not point the finger at others," said Ryan Pacyga, an attorney who represented one of the suspended players later cleared in the investigation.

Pacyga supports the players right to boycott, and says it's the school officials that need to work on improved communication.

"I believe what the football players decided to do by boycotting for a period of time and the like was their way of trying to bring a voice to accused students who ought to be presumed innocent and to ask for due process," Pacyga said. 

"I think according to the report, there was probably some miscommunication that led, potentially, to the boycott last year," Anderson said. "I think we've got to be better, I think we've always got to be better and we have to speak with one voice."

The discussion Wednesday included equal opportunity and affirmative action standards.

The meeting followed an investigation into the school's response to sexual misconduct allegations in September 2016.

A female student accused several Gopher football players of sexual assault. After a police investigation, the Hennepin County Attorney's Office declined to press criminal charges. However, 10 players were initially suspended, leading to a highly-publicized bowl game boycott and eventually a coaching change.

In the end, four players were expelled, one was suspended and the rest were cleared of wrongdoing.

By March, the board began looking into a review for recommendations on Title IX and athletic discipline practices.

In May, lawyers Marti and Jillian Kornblatt were hired to investigate. By Wednesday, it had been more than three months since they began looking into the university's response.

RELATED: Regents Look to Commission 'Independent' Review of Gophers Football Players Investigation

In addition to improved communication, the independent review also said the involved parties could have better managed the boycott "had the Board of Regents collectively, individual Regents, and University administration, the Athletics Department, and football team coaches responded in a more coordinated and unified manner."

The attorneys outlined three areas for improvement for the university's administration and athletics officials: training and education, team leadership, and coordination of communication and strategy.

President Eric Kaler tasked a group to put together an initiative on sexual misconduct awareness for the university. Details of the plan are expected to be delivered to Kaler October 2nd. 

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Rebecca Omastiak & Tyler Berg

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