Golden Gophers prepared to continue boycott, skip Holiday Bowl

ByMark Schlabach ESPN logo
Saturday, December 17, 2016

Barring a last-minute resolution, Minnesota's football team is prepared to continue its boycott and skip the Dec. 27 National Funding Holiday Bowl in San Diego, sources told ESPN on Saturday morning.

A late-night meeting on Friday between Gophers players and University of Minnesota President Eric Kaler and other campus leaders failed to bring an end to the players' boycott.

Sources familiar with the discussions told the Minneapolis Star Tribune on Friday night that the players refused to back down from their demand that 10 teammates suspended from the team this week due to a sexual assault allegation be reinstated immediately.

An underage football recruit was also involved in the alleged sexual assault on Sept. 2, according to police records, court testimony and a university reportobtained by the Minneapolis Star Tribune.

The recruit acknowledged having sex with the woman early that morning, but denied raping her, according to the police report

Lee Hutton III, who represents each of the 10 suspended players, told ESPN on Saturday morning that "the players are still working to resolve the issue."

Kaler is unwilling to lift the players' suspensions, which result from their alleged roles in a reported gang rape that occurred on Sept. 2, only hours after the Gophers' season opener against Oregon State in Minneapolis. A female Minnesota student told police that several men sexually assaulted her at a football player's apartment. Five of the suspended Minnesota players told police that they had consensual sex with the women.

In a statement released by the university on Friday, Kaler said: "A bowl game is a wonderful reward for an excellent football season. It is my hope that our eligible football players, marching band, spirit squad and loyal fans take advantage of this opportunity. However, the University of Minnesota will not change our values or our code of conduct for the sake of a bowl game."

The Star Tribune reported that Minnesota officials have to decide by noon Saturday whether the Gophers will play Washington State in the Holiday Bowl. The Gophers are scheduled to leave for San Diego on Dec. 23.

Sources told ESPN on Friday that the National Funding Holiday Bowl likely would have to decide by Monday whether Minnesota or Northern Illinois -- NIU (5-7) would be the next postseason eligible team, based on its Academic Progress Rate score -- will oppose the Cougars.

Late Friday night, Northern Illinois athletics director Sean T. Frazier tweeted a statement that indicated the Huskies would be willing to travel to San Diego to play the Cougars: "All due respect to reports concerning Bowl difficulties! We have played in 8 straight bowl games & can manage our way through logistics!"