The Minnesota & Holiday Bowl Mess
Minnesota players are boycotting all football activities and threatening to not play in the Holiday Bowl until they get answers regarding the suspension of ten teammates. An idea on how to solve this, in the Daily Cavalcade.
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Sorry if this column sucks, it’s not my fault …
It’s -4 out right now. I’ll happily go to San Diego if Minnesota doesn’t want to.
“I say, you’re in a pretty bad fix, Mr. President.”
This is a new one.
So how does everyone get out of the boycott by the Minnesota football players and save face?
To quickly sum up the controversy, 10 Minnesota players were suspended by the school in the midst of an internal investigation regarding a sexual assault accusation from back in September. The police investigated and declined to press charges or issue any arrests, but the school had to look into it further due to Title IX rules and laws, and chose to suspend the players allegedly involved. Now the rest of the team wants to know why the accused players are off the team, considering, again, the police chose not to pursue the matter further.
How does the University of Minnesota keep its integrity in the midst of an awful situation all the way around? How does the football program handle this and respect the players? How is a sexual assault situation handled when we all know just what a nightmare it is for a woman to ever come forward? How does the Holiday Bowl go about its business?
I tread lightly here for a variety of reasons.
I tread lightly because I’m a college players’ rights champion on almost every level. I’ve been waiting for players to figure this one out at some point in some sport – this is their power.
Whether it’s to get paid, for better working conditions, or for a better salad bar, threatening to boycott before a bowl, a playoff, a Final Four, or any other big money-making game puts the pressure on as long as the players are united. And that’s been the problem in the past – it’s just about impossible to get 18-to-22-year-olds on scholarships to fully agree to do something like this.
I tread lightly because there’s a sexual assault accusation here. No matter how its spun, and no matter what really happened, there’s a woman right now going through the horror of being a part of such a public scandal, not to mention the nightmare of the alleged incident itself.
I tread lightly because I grew up in Minneapolis and Minnesota was my childhood football program. My dad worked for The U, and I’m well aware of how administrators view the relationship between athletics and the school itself.
I also tread lightly because I don’t want to overinflate the importance of a football game, but it’s going to happen no matter what. It’s obviously trivial compared to the real-world problems in place, but the Holiday Bowl is still a business, and there’s still going to be a game one way or another.
So what’s the answer?
If I’m the University of Minnesota, first, obviously, I say all the right things, I get the right people to talk to the leaders of the boycott – QB Mitch Leidner, WR Drew Wolitarsky, and TE Duke Anyanwu – and I make every reasonable attempt to describe why the players were suspended and why that suspension has to be upheld, no matter what.
The players should know what the real situation is, but they can’t assume that the idea of the presumption of innocence in a criminal case sort of way necessarily applies to a school or company when it comes to suspensions, depending on the situation.
There are privacy laws in place to protect the accuser that might keep the players from getting what they’re looking for. There’s a chance here that the school is making a judgement – which is perfectly within its rights based on the Title IX rules and laws – based on things the players won’t be able to get answers to in the next few days.
So, you don’t want to play in the Holiday Bowl, Minnesota players? You should get all the answers the school is allowed to provide you, and if you still don’t want to play, then fine. Whatever. The University of Minnesota is bigger than a football team.
No, the school shouldn’t revoke the scholarships of the players if they choose not to play, and they shouldn’t disband the football program or fire head coach Tracy Claeys. But if everyone wants this to play out and the accused players to have their say, then this might not all be tied up into a nice, neat bow by December 27th – the day of the Holiday Bowl.
So what should the Holiday Bowl do?
It’s apparently asking for an answer one way or another by Sunday, and then it has to figure out a solution so its game can be played.
There’s some thought that Northern Illinois would be the choice – the next-eligible team available according to the Academic Progress Report – but that’s not simple.
Some of the players have left the campus and some have signed with agents. From purely a football standpoint – yuck. The Huskies haven’t practiced or worked out in weeks, and it’s asking a lot to get everyone together in a hurry to provide any sort of a game for Washington State.
My solution – and I have no idea whatsoever if this is even legally or physically possible – take the winner of the San Diego County Poinsettia Bowl between BYU and Wyoming on December 21st in San Diego, and have it play the Cougars.
The winner will already be in town, and it’ll already be in game shape. Six days isn’t a lot of time, but it’s the last game of the year – the team would be fine.
Financially, in terms of payout, something would have to be contractually figured out in a hurry, but at least the game would be competitive and not just some bizarre exhibition or Washington State blowout.
In the end, I’m guessing Minnesota and its players will smooth this out in time to play Washington State – and I’ll still pick the Gophers to win. But at the very least, Minnesota players just provided a blueprint for future college teams to show their power.