The University of Minnesota athletic department is once again grappling with a controversy surrounding sexual assault allegations after suspending one of its star basketball players from competition.
Athletic Director Mark Coyle announced on Friday that the senior center Reggie Lynch would not appear in any games, but that he would remain a member of the basketball program. Given his age, 23, and dwindling eligibility, however, it is unlikely he will ever play for the Golden Gophers again, unless a related ruling is overturned on appeal.
The decision to suspend Lynch stems from an incident in April 2016 in which he allegedly sexually assaulted a Minnesota woman in his dormitory.
The university’s Office of Equal Opportunity and Affirmative Action issued a decision on Thursday, ruling that Lynch was responsible for violations of the university code regarding sexual misconduct and sexual assault, stalking and relationship violence, and would be suspended from the university early next week, according to documents reviewed by The New York Times.
The Star Tribune of Minnesota, which first reported the impending suspension on Friday morning, cited a source close to Lynch who said he planned to appeal. If he does, the suspension will be delayed pending the outcome of a formal hearing, in which a decision would be handed down by a panel.
Lynch was arrested two years ago in a separate incident on suspicion of sexual assault. Prosecutors declined to charge him, and a university probe cleared him of wrongdoing.
The decision to suspend Lynch comes a year after the university began an investigation into, and suspended, 10 members of the college football team in connection with allegations of a sexual assault. The football team then threatened to boycott a bowl game. The team’s football coach at the time, Tracy Claeys, supported the boycott, though the players ultimately decided to play. The Golden Gophers beat Washington State in the bowl game. The university fired Claeys a week later.
In Lynch’s case, the athletic department suspended him from practices after his initial arrest. The ensuing investigation took place over that summer, however, and Lynch did not miss any games. He was named the Big Ten’s defensive player of the year after a stellar season at center.
A lawyer believed to be representing Lynch did not return a request for comment.
At a news conference on Friday, both Coyle and Minnesota’s head basketball coach, Richard Pitino, a son of the former Louisville head coach Rick Pitino, declined to comment on specifics of Lynch’s situation, citing federal and state student privacy laws.
Coyle justified his decision to hold Lynch out of play but not dismiss him from the program, stating, “We want to make sure he has access to medical treatment, academic services, let him be around his team.”
Richard Pitino defended the program’s actions and his decision to play Lynch as he was being investigated, saying he had discussed the matter extensively with his superiors.
“When certain things like this happen, big things, you go to your boss and you discuss and you go with what the policies are in place more than anything, and we did that,” he said.
Minnesota (13-3) hosts Indiana on Saturday afternoon.
Minnesota’s main campus in the Twin Cities is one of several around the country where the debate over campus sexual assault has notably been refracted through the prism of college athletics.
The issue with the football team erupted after a woman received a restraining order in the fall of 2016 against six football players after an episode in which she claimed several men sexually assaulted her. Prosecutors declined to prosecute, and the restraining order was lifted as a part of a settlement. But the university investigation led to several expulsions and a suspension.
In March 2017, Eric W. Kaler, the university president, proclaimed a new initiative to combat sexual assault on his campus after, he said, the campus had been “at the center of sexual assault news and conversation.”
“What we can do,” Kaler said, “is stand firm on our values and effectively articulate the behaviors we expect and the culture we want to create.”
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