Rebels with a wrong cause: Minnesota players chose wrong case to take a stand

3:07 | College Football
Why Minnesota Golden Gophers' boycott was misguided
Monday December 19th, 2016

The past two years have shown that college football players finally have begun to understand the power they can wield. This past weekend taught one team that it needs to be careful how it uses that power. As more players wake up to the leverage they’ve been inadvertently handed by their schools, conferences and television networks, hopefully they’ll keep this lesson in mind.

Minnesota football players donned their practice gear Thursday and stood united before the cameras. They threatened to boycott all football activities, including the Holiday Bowl against Washington State, if the suspensions levied days earlier against 10 of their teammates weren’t lifted. “We, the united Gopher football team, issue this statement to take back the reputation and integrity of our program and our brothers that have faced unjust Title IX investigation without due process,” receiver Drew Wolitarsky said.

Later, while answering questions from reporters, Wolitarsky said something that proved the Gophers understood that if they remained united, they could make things very difficult for the school. Wolitarksy was asked if he worried about losing his scholarship. “We’re in this together,” he said. “What are they, going to pull 120 guys off the team?”

But it was the response of quarterback Mitch Leidner and Wolitarsky to a question asked earlier that showed the 18- to 22-year-olds behind this particular movement hadn’t taken their stand armed with all the necessary information. “Have you guys read the university’s EOAA report?” a reporter asked.

“We have not,” Leidner said.

“Nope,” Wolitarsky said.

That admission told Minnesota administrators all they needed to know. One leaked report from the school’s office of Equal Opportunity and Affirmative Action later, the boycott crumbled as players realized their stand might not appear as principled as they once believed. The Gophers will play in the Holiday Bowl. Their teammates will remain suspended pending hearings early next year.

There will come a time when a group of major college football players will sit out a game to take a stand. Fortunately, this was not that occasion. This wasn’t the stand to take to that extreme, and cooler heads prevailed. The suspended players faced expulsion or suspension from the university because some had been accused of taking part in a gang rape in September and some, while not directly accused, had been in the apartment where the incident took place while it took place.

The version of events from a Minneapolis police report, which resulted in no criminal charges and was publicly available prior to last week, wasn’t nearly as detailed or graphic as the version of events set forth in the 82-page EOAA report that television station KSTP obtained and published Friday afternoon. There is some video evidence, and police determined that sex with two men was consensual, but ultimately the case will come down to the accuser’s word against the word of the players.

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As the other Minnesota players read the stomach-churning EOAA report, they had to regret inserting themselves into the case. Even if what happened on that September night was entirely consensual—as the accused players contend—it isn’t something of which mainstream society would approve. If the accuser’s version is accurate, then something truly awful happened.

Even though the other Minnesota players were making a more nuanced argument that people accused of sexual misconduct at their university should be afforded due process before the school makes a disciplinary decision, the optics of their boycott looked horrific after the public saw the EOAA report. With the boycott, the players who weren’t involved in the incident had attached their names to it.

This was the difference between the Minnesota boycott and the one Missouri players threatened in 2015. The Missouri players had backed social activists, not people accused of something odious. Even those who disagreed with the substance of the Missouri protests could accept the players’ opinion. In the Minnesota situation, a significant portion of the population would never look past the circumstances of the case to understand the players’ message—and that’s completely understandable.

Nick Wosika/Icon Sportswire via Getty Images

Schools and conferences have handed the players all this power by turning college football into a lucrative series of television shows. The problem with being a cable programmer—as the Big Ten, Pac-12 and SEC are and the ACC plans to be—or a distributor of television shows is that if the cast walks off, there is no show. Had Minnesota players decided to sit out the Holiday Bowl and been replaced by Northern Illinois, it would have cost the Big Ten $2.8 million. That’s actually one of the least complicated outcomes from such a boycott. Had the players stood firm, Minnesota’s best course of action was to let the conference take the financial hit and use the ensuing nine months to sort out the issues.

It would get much more complicated if a team decided to do this in October and the boycott lasted several weeks. That would remove content from conference networks and eliminate games that outside networks such as ESPN or Fox had paid good money to show. This would be very messy for the affected school and conference. The difference between these television programmers and Nickelodeon is that Nickelodeon has the option to fire the cast of Henry Danger if it walks off the set. As Wolitarsky pointed out, the schools can’t do that to a team if it decides not to play.

The reasons for this are legal and practical. From the legal standpoint, school and conference officials, including the commissioner of Minnesota’s conference, have testified in federal court that even though players are compensated in the form of tuition, room and board, they are not employees. They are, the NCAA and its schools claimed in court, simply regular college students who happen to play a sport. We all know that isn’t true on any level, but this is the defense the NCAA and schools have to mount to defend their collusion to cap the wages on the labor market for major college sports.

Unfortunately for the schools, this stance also would open them to a lawsuit if they disciplined players for boycotting or protesting—things college students have done quite frequently throughout American history. Basically, any school that tried to act on a protesting team would undo a legal defense the NCAA and conferences spent a lot of money to craft.

From a practical standpoint, Minnesota wouldn’t have dumped the entire team because it would have torpedoed the football program for years if not decades. The NCAA only allows FBS schools to bring in 25 new scholarship football players a year, and schools probably don’t want to set the precedent of adjusting that rule in special cases such as this. As I wrote last year during the Missouri situation, only a school that wants a real-life version of the film Necessary Roughness would do this. With all due respect to Scott Bakula, Sinbad and Kathy Ireland, no school wants this.

At some point, a team will stare down its administration for a longer period of time and put all of this to the test. The television programmers that run college sports will face tough choices as long as the public believes the team’s cause is just. That wasn’t the case with Minnesota’s cause. Fortunately, the players realized this before they made an ugly situation much, much worse.

 

A random ranking

Of course we’re going to pay tribute to the late, great Alan Thicke. But it won’t be with an ‘80s sitcom dad ranking or a pop star father ranking. Instead, we’ll rank the top five TV theme songs Thicke composed.

1. The Facts of Life (with then-wife Gloria Loring and Al Burton)

2. Diff’rent Strokes (also with Loring and Burton, but Thicke sang it)

3. The Wizard of Odds

4. The Joker’s Wild

5. Animal Crackups

[youtube:https://youtu.be/8MDEkfPFepM]

First-and-10

1. Of course the Joe Mixon video was awful. What did you think the video of the Oklahoma tailback slugging a woman and breaking her jaw was going to look like? It’s still maddening that it takes video of a man punching a woman to bring the level of outrage that the accurate description in the police report should have brought two years ago. Now Oklahoma coach Bob Stoops, athletic director Joe Castiglione and president David Boren—who saw the video two years ago—must answer again why they only redshirted suspended Mixon for the 2014 season instead of kicking him off the team. They can’t punish Mixon again. They made their choice, just as Mixon made his. Now they’ll have to live with the consequences.

Whoever in Norman thought they could bury the video forever was absurdly stupid. It was the key piece of evidence in a criminal investigation. It was a public record by every definition. It took the Oklahoma Supreme Court to point out that obvious fact, and Mixon’s camp opted to release the video Friday before any appeals were inevitably denied. Why? They wanted to put as much distance between the release of the video and the NFL draft as possible. Because whenever Mixon leaves Oklahoma—be it in a few weeks or a year—that video will trail him.

Should a mistake made at 18 years old dog a person the rest of his life? That depends on the mistake. A man who would punch a woman deserves every bad thing that happens to him because of that choice. Men should not hit women. It does not make it O.K. to hit a woman if the woman hits a man first, as some of the dumber members of the population have implied in this case. This is not some progressive view on my part. This is a view based on an understanding of how the human body develops. A punch from most adult women will do very little damage to an adult man. A punch from a man can do catastrophic damage to a woman. My view also is informed by my parents, who told me that men do not hit women. Period. If you feel differently, then hopefully you've elected against reproducing. The world doesn't need more people who feel this way.

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If that video follows Mixon everywhere he goes, so be it. Should the Oklahoma brass face more scrutiny for a choice they made two years ago? Of course. They will argue that if they had booted Mixon, then a true freshman who hadn’t even practiced, he might have signed on at another school and played immediately. Then he wouldn’t have faced any real punishment at all. (Athletic directors and coaches wouldn’t be making these decisions if men who punched women actually got put in jail for any period of time. That is the much larger issue at hand.) That’s a valid argument, but it also ignores the fact that Oklahoma officials control who represents Oklahoma. And they chose to let Mixon, whose subsequent actions have not demonstrated much personal growth, wear crimson and cream.

These same people also took Dorial Green-Beckham after his dismissal from Missouri because of a domestic violence incident. Stoops often claims he modeled the way he runs his program after former boss Steve Spurrier, but Spurrier had a hard and fast rule that any player who would hit a woman had no place on his team. By their actions, Stoops and his bosses have demonstrated they believe violence against women is O.K. as long as the player is good enough.

Coaches who recruit against Oklahoma will use the Mixon video against the Sooners, and they should. They’ll show it to parents of recruits. Then they’ll ask “Do you want your son playing for a coach who would allow this person on his team?” It’s a valid question.

2. The ACC has fined Louisville and Virginia Tech $25,000 each for taking inside information offered by former Wake Forest coach and radio announcer Tommy Elrod. Why only $25,000 for violations that seriously damage the league? Because that’s all the ACC’s bylaws allow. Apparently the ACC modeled its governance after the homeworld of Phineas and Ferb’s Meap. (You should watch every episode of Phineas and Ferb, but go to the 3:10 mark of this video to understand the model for the ACC’s punishment structure.)

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3. Youngstown State advanced to the FCS title game with a win at Eastern Washington that turned on one the best catches in the history of football. One second remained on the clock when Penguins receiver Kevin Rader reached around Eagles linebacker Ketner Kupp and pinned the ball against against Kupp’s shoulder blade with one hand. Now coach Bo Pelini’s Youngstown State team will face James Madison for the FCS national title.

This was the PAT attempt that followed that touchdown.

4. Pelini may have moved to the FCS after getting fired at Nebraska, but parody account @FauxPelini continues to tweet at Heisman Trophy levels.

5. How did James Madison punch its ticket to Frisco, Texas, to face the Penguins? By beating five-time defending FCS champ North Dakota State on its home field in the Fargodome.

6. Congratulations to San Diego State tailback Donnel Pumphrey, who broke the FBS rushing record—sort of—during Saturday’s win against Houston in the Las Vegas Bowl.

Pumphrey finished his career with 6,405 rushing yards. Saturday, he passed former Wisconsin star Ron Dayne. Dayne even offered his congratulations.

So what’s that number at the end of Dayne’s tweet? That’s the rushing yard total he would have wound up with if bowl games were counted in the NCAA’s official statistics. But the NCAA didn’t begin counting bowl games until 2002, so Dayne gets stiffed out of more than 700 yards.

There is an easy solution to this. This summer, the NCAA can assign some interns to input the individual stats from every bowl game played between the 1937 season—when the NCAA began keeping football stats—and the 2002 season. It would take less than a week, and the records would be more of an apples-to-apples comparison.

7. Tulsa tailback James Flanders and quarterback Ryan Rubley couldn’t attend their graduation because they were with the team preparing to face Central Michigan on Monday in the Miami Beach Bowl. So Tulsa coaches threw the players a commencement ceremony in Florida on Sunday morning.

8. Mitch Vingle of the Charleston (W. Va.) Gazette-Mail wrote about how West Virginia defensive coordinator and West Virginia native Tony Gibson is giving back to his hometown during the holiday season.

9. The Celebration Bowl turned on an excessive celebration penalty.

10. SI’s Pete Thamel and NJ.com are reporting that Rutgers plans to hire former Minnesota head coach Jerry Kill as its offensive coordinator. Kill, who retired from Minnesota because of a seizure disorder, has spent the past season working as a consultant for Kansas State. He would be the Scarlet Knights’ eighth offensive coordinator in eight years.

What’s eating Andy?

For the third consecutive season, SI has not elected to send me to cover the Bahamas Bowl. This tyranny will not stand.

What’s Andy eating?

If Lane Kiffin gets hungry for a burger in his new job at Florida Atlantic, he’s in luck. Just a few miles from campus is a building that houses Cendyn Spaces, which sounds like the sort of place where our new robot overlords will be programmed. The building advertises itself as the “most innovative hybrid workspace in South Florida.” That’s an awfully bold description of something that looks like a plain old ‘80s office building, right down to the cafe on the bottom floor that probably served some horrendous sandwiches through the years. Fortunately, the current tenant in that cafe has far grander ambitions than the surroundings suggest.

M.E.A.T. Eatery and Taproom established itself as a purveyor of fine burgers, sandwiches, fries and beer in the Florida Keys at Mile Marker 88—a young Andy lived at Mile Marker 100 from 1985–89—but the Boca Raton outpost is an attempt to grab mainland diners who appreciate a decadent lunch. My only problem with the menu was that I wanted everything. The Cuban sandwich looked incredible. So did the duck fat fries.

Andy Staples

But even I have my caloric limits. So I ordered the housemade pork rinds with chimichurri for dipping as an appetizer. Then I asked for the truffle fries alongside my Inside Out Juicy Lucy burger. What’s a Juicy Lucy? It’s a style of burger popularized in Minneapolis in which the cheese is stuffed inside the raw patty before it goes on the grill. This leaves a molten core of cheese inside the burger rather that atop it. At M.E.A.T., chef George Patti stuffs his patties, which are a combination of ground brisket and more traditional ground beef, with pimento cheese and bacon bits. The pimento cheese, a Southern tailgating staple that has popped up on menus across the country in recent years, is perfectly suited for this task. Unlike another cheese that might harden seconds after coming off the grill, pimento cheese is already the ideal texture for the Juicy Lucy. And if that isn’t enough cheese, Patti also melts American over the top. Adding the bacon only proves that Patti loves his customers. Choosing bacon bits instead of whole slices of bacon allows for an excellent distribution throughout each bite. Of course, I also had them throw some slices of bacon on the top to maximize the protein.

Andy Staples

The pork rinds would warm the heart of anyone who has taken a long road trip through the South. The ones from the gas station are perfectly good, but these—served hot and dusted with a paprika-forward mix of spices—are exponentially better. Coating the fries with truffle oil, parmesan cheese and rosemary, meanwhile, makes them irresistible. This becomes quite inconvenient after a plate of pork rinds and a juicy burger. Common sense says stop, but the flavor combination tells the body to keep going.

Andy Staples

Keep eating the fries and skip the cake in a jar. It’s an adorable concept, and the bacon and bourbon s’more creation I ordered seemed like a great idea. In practice, it couldn’t stay moist enough with the ingredients separated out. Perhaps some of the other varieties mix better within the jar, but this one stayed too dry.

Fortunately, the Inside Out Juicy Lucy did not suffer from this ailment. It satisfied completely. If I worked in that building on a project to create the newest form of artificial intelligence, the world would remain completely safe. I’d spend all my time downstairs downing burgers and truffle fries, and Skynet would never become self-aware. It would just get hungry.

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