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How not to handle a sexual assault investigation into a football player

On Aug. 24, Indiana announced sophomore running back Morgan Ellison had been suspended indefinitely from all team activities. The reason for the suspension was not revealed, and IU said in its press release it would not comment further on the suspension.

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We now know exactly why Ellison was suspended.

An IU panel determined Ellison committed sexual assault against a fellow student. The panel found Ellison began the assault while the victim was asleep and used force to continue the attack when the victim awoke. (Ellison denied using force and said all activities were consensual, according to the Indianapolis Star.)

In a letter dated Oct. 3, the panel suspended Ellison from IU for two and a half years. (No criminal charges have been filed as of yet, though that can always change.)

But on Oct. 2, Indiana head coach Tom Allen announced Ellison had resumed practicing with the team.

More than that, Ellison had been around the team prior to the Oct. 2 announcement. On a Big Ten coaches teleconference on the 2nd, Allen said that he has regularly met with Ellison through the course of his suspension.

“He’s been allowed to be with our team recently, and we still have no answer yet for his game opportunities,” Allen said. “But he’s been allowed to be around us on a consistent basis now, which has helped. But we still don’t know the long-term future yet, taking it day by day.”

"Day by day" turned into "just today," as the university suspended Ellison 24 hours later.

Step back and consider the facts here.

Indiana suspended Ellison on Aug. 24, fully aware Ellison was under investigation for sexual assault.

At some point over the ensuing weeks, Ellison is allowed to return the team. He's then allowed to return to the practice field, and Allen doesn't refute that he may play on Saturdays at some point -- all while his player is under investigation by the university for sexual assault against a fellow student.

What message does this send to the women of IU? I'll tell you what message it sends: We think so little of you that an alleged sexual assault by one of our players will keep him off the practice field for a few weeks.

Now, I don't want to imply Allen or Indiana football don't care about women, because I don't think that's true and because I don't think that's fair.

Allen, AD Fred Glass and Indiana athletics should not have brought Ellison back to the team before the investigation into his sexual assault act was complete, but that's only part of the story. (FootballScoop has left multiple messages for Allen, but those were not returned as of press time.)

Indiana University should not have given Indiana Athletics the opportunity to reinstate Ellison ahead of the investigation's end date.

If there's one thing we heard over and over again during the Urban Meyer-Zach Smith saga, it's that football coaches are not investigators. They aren't qualified to investigate something as serious as a sexual assault case, and it's not fair to anyone involved -- victim, accused or coach -- to place that responsibility on their shoulders.

Like every university, IU has a system in place to handle such investigations, but it didn't go far enough in this case. If IU was investigating Ellison, then the university should have suspended Ellison from all team activities through the course of the investigation.

If said investigation clears Ellison, the university then allows him to return to the team. If it finds him guilty, as it did Oct. 3, then it extends his suspension for another 30 months.

The university knows the facts of the case, and the university knows the timeline of its investigation. The football team does not. So the university should have safeguarded all invested parties by suspending him pending the investigation's completion and not let that burden fall to the football program. Not having such a failsafe in place invites a worst-case scenario where the head football coach -- who, again, does not know the facts of the case -- reinstates a player the day before the university suspends that very same player.

Which, of course, is exactly what happened.

We have no reason to think or believe that Indiana football and Tom Allen don't care about women, but Indiana University brought that perception to light by not letting its left hand know what its right hand was doing.