Panel clears 4 Minnesota players in sexual assault hearing

Dr. Saturday
Four Minnesota players were cleared following a decision from a university panel but punishment was upheld for five others. (Getty)
Four Minnesota players were cleared following a decision from a university panel but punishment was upheld for five others. (Getty)

Four of the 10 Minnesota players indefinitely suspended following an investigation into an alleged sexual assault have been cleared.

According to the Star-Tribune, a university disciplinary panel cleared Seth Green, Kobe McCrary, Antonio Shenault and Antoine Winfield Jr. of any wrongdoing, but the recommendation of expulsion for four other players — Ray Buford, KiAnte Hardin, Dior Johnson and Tamarion Johnson — was upheld. Additionally, the expulsion ruling for Carlton Djam was reduced to a one-year university suspension. The one-year suspension for Mark Williams was upheld.

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One-year suspensions had been recommended for Green, McCary and Winfield while university probation was recommended for Shenault.

The players were notified of the rulings Friday afternoon, the Star-Tribune reported, after two days of “closed-door meetings” last week. According to the AP, the players responded to the accuser and other witnesses during hearings last week:

The 10 accused players went through more than 18 hours of hearings over two days last week in front of the three-person panel. The woman and other university-summoned witnesses testified on Jan. 26, and the players gave their response the following day. The panel was required to produce a decision within a week, but unlike a criminal trial that requires a unanimous verdict by a jury the university proceeding required a simple two-person majority.

The original discipline was handed down by the university’s Equal Opportunity and Affirmative Action Office in response to an alleged sexual assault in September after the Gophers season opener. The woman involved said several of the players assaulted her at an off-campus apartment and others watched. She filed a restraining order against Djam, Buford, Hardin, Johnson and Johnson. The woman worked at TCF Bank Stadium, so the order prevented the players from participating in home games.

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Prosecutors opted not to press charges against any of the accused players in October due to insufficient evidence. Buford, Hardin, Johnson and Johnson, who had been suspended from the team, were reinstated to the team after charges weren’t filed, but the four, plus the six others, were all suspended after the university ruling in December.

Following the ruling, the team briefly boycotted football activities and threatened not to play in the Holiday Bowl. Head coach Tracy Claeys backed his team in the boycott, which was eventually called off after a local outlet published the university’s confidential report detailing the assault allegations.

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The Holiday Bowl was played and Minnesota won to finish the season with a 9-4 record. Despite the nine-win season, Claeys was fired, in part because of the way he handled the situation. The school has since hired P.J. Fleck from Western Michigan.

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Sam Cooper is a writer for the Yahoo Sports blogs. Have a tip? Email him or follow him on Twitter!

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