Minnesota is set to face Washington State in the Dec. 27 Holiday Bowl -- that is, if the Gophers show up.
Ten Minnesota players were suspended from the team in the wake of an investigation into an alleged sexual assault that occurred in September, which resulted five players having to sit out a home game while complying with restraining orders. As it stands now, the university's Equal Opportunity and Affirmative Action office has recommended expulsion for five of the 10 players, 1-year suspensions for four and probation for the 10th player.
And in light of that, the team is threatening to sit out all team activities -- up to and including this month's bowl game.
From the Minneapolis Star-Tribune:
The Gophers had a players-only meeting Thursday afternoon and later brought in head coach Tracy Claeys to inform him of their plans, sources said. According to two parents of players, all of the team's players are planning a united announcement Thursday evening to say they are immediately boycotting team activities and are willing to boycott the Holiday Bowl if "their demands are not met" — a reference to their teammates being reinstated and reversing the decision to suspend the 10 players.
The situation at the heart of the matter, again from the Star-Tribune:
Some of the players were directly accused by a female student in the alleged sexual assault in the early morning hours after the Gophers' first game on Sept. 2; the involvement of others is unclear. The woman's claims have been documented through police reports and court testimony, and ultimately led to the EOAA investigation.
University president Eric Kaler told boosters, according to the Star-Tribune, Claeys decided on the suspension for the players with support from AD Mark Coyle. But the paper reports, citing sources, that the decision came down from above Claeys's head, and that the coach is expected to support his players in the boycott.
The players gathered in unison Thursday night to make a joint statement.
"Team activities" at this point, apparently, does not include the Holiday Bowl. At least not yet.
Minnesota players boycotting the Holiday Bowl would obviously have repercussions not just for the program, but for Washington State, the Big Ten and ESPN. And the Gophers certainly know that.
Kaler and Coyle have released the following statement:
We understand that a lot of confusion and frustration exists as a result of this week's suspension of 10 Gopher Football players from all team activities. The reality is that not everyone can have all of the facts, and unfortunately the University cannot share more information due to federal laws regarding student privacy. We fully support our Gopher football players and all of our student-athletes. Situations like this are always difficult and the decision was made in consultation with and has the full support of President Eric Kaler. The decision was based on facts and is reflective of the University's values.
We want to continue an open dialogue with our players and will work to do that over the coming days. It's important that we continue to work together as we move through this difficult time.