Tracy Claeys has been fired as head coach of the Minnesota football team, the Minneapolis Star-Tribune reports.
This is not a huge surprise, and almost certainly has nothing to do with the performance of the football team, which went 11-8 and won two bowl games in his short tenure since replacing Jerry Kill in October of 2015.
More likely, this has to do with off-field issues of the football program this season, 10 players being suspended for the bowl game and 5 expelled from the university, a threatened boycott from the rest of the team, and this tweet Claeys sent about it:
Below, verbatim, is what my colleague Jason Lisk wrote about the story last month:
The Minnesota players are standing up for their teammates’ rights to, at the most favorable view, engage in very questionable behavior at a late night party, wherein multiple members of the team had sex with the same woman consecutively. Tracy Claeys, the head coach, supports them.
You have probably heard by now that the 10 Minnesota players were suspended from the Holiday Bowl. According to the Star-Tribune, five of the players face outright expulsion from the university, and four others face a one-year suspension. Initially, the administration said Claeys was part of the decision-making, but that has since been disputed and the players have threatened a boycott of the bowl game.
The basics are this, as laid out by the Star-Tribune: a female student who was part of the TCF Bank Stadium gameday operations was drinking on the night of September 1st, after the football game. She went with two players, including Carlton Djam, to an off-campus apartment. There, Djam had sex with her.
Asked during a court hearing why she didn’t leave, she said, “I felt scared, trapped, isolated with someone I felt had power over me.”
At some point, they began having sex. The police report said “she doesn’t have a recall about how the sex acts started.”
After Djam, others followed. She told police she saw a line of men waiting to take turns.
“I was removing myself from my mind and my body to help myself from the pain and experience going on,” she testified.
She estimated there were at least a dozen men. “I was shoving people off of me,” she testified. “They kept ignoring my pleas for help. Anything I said they laughed. They tried to cheer people on.”
The woman went to a hospital immediately after, given a rape exam, and a police report was made.
An investigator spoke with Djam, he showed a series of short videos, wherein the investigator noted:
During an 8-second clip, the woman “appears lucid, alert, somewhat playful and fully conscious; she does not appear to be objecting to anything at this time,” Wente wrote in his report. After viewing two additional videos, he wrote “the sexual contact appears entirely consensual.”
Police later interviewed four other players, who each said the sex was consensual.
On Sept. 30, Wente sent the investigation to the Hennepin County Attorney’s office for possible prosecution. In it, he wrote about the videos, “at no time does she indicate that she is in distress or that the contact is unwelcome or nonconsensual.”
At this point, we should point out the differing standards in a criminal case, wherein someone can be imprisoned upon adjudication, and a Title IX investigation by a University, where the standard is preponderance of the evidence.
Prosecutors (probably in part due to those investigator comments, whether they agreed with them or not) ultimately did not bring charges. The school then conducted its own investigation, interviewed people, and held hearings as required by Title IX. Those findings, again using a preponderance of the evidence standard, are what the players are protesting today.
As the Star-Tribune points out in discussing these different standards, the University also adopted this policy, and must apply it in this case:
This isn’t the Baylor situation, wherein the school actually did nothing after investigating Sam Ukwuachu, only to have a criminal court find him guilty. In fact, it’s the opposite, where the school is making a finding without a criminal conviction, which is absolutely possible given the different proof standards. It’s more like Yale basketball case from last year, where other players initially showed support for an expelled teammate (though they ultimately backed down after backlash).
We require different levels of proof to take away your freedom, and to participate as a member of the University and represent the school. Here, the University determined that the conduct of those ten players was inappropriate and that they should not represent the school.
I think there’s only one–albeit difficult–answer here for the administration. It will no doubt be costly. But players can’t dictate that members of the team who, generously, engaged in behavior that is embarrassing and harmful to the University stay. They can’t usurp Minnesota from complying with their Title IX obligations. The University is a lot bigger than a football game, and has students, alumni, and future parents of sons and daughters to worry about.
If I am University President Eric Kaler and Athletic Director Mark Coyle, the first thing I do is go ahead and cancel the school’s appearance in the Holiday Bowl and take that off the table. Take that out of consideration. It’s one game, and going at this point can lead to compromises that go beyond football.
The next thing I would do is fire Tracy Claeys as head coach. He cannot represent the University. He sent this tweet out last night:
This is the thing that he has never been more proud of?!?! His players protesting several team members running a sex train in a late night party and being found to have more likely than not engaged in inappropriate behavior?
Sorry, you don’t get to lead a football team anymore. Claeys needs some freaking perspective.
And then, I would invite the players to consider their options, knowing that the coach was gone. If you have already taken the bowl game out of the equation, you don’t have to deliver a “play or go” ultimatum for that game. You can give them the semester and the start of the next one, after a new coach is hired. Have them take a step back and consider whether this late night sex party is the hill they want to die on. You might lose some, others might come to their senses. Maybe the football program takes a step back.
Some things are more important than football, and the University will have a harder time recovering if they give in, versus taking the larger stand that football players cannot dictate how University policy on sexual assaults are handled.