Minnesota's decision to play Reggie Lynch this season demands further scrutiny

Minnesota center <a class="link rapid-noclick-resp" href="/ncaab/players/120900/" data-ylk="slk:Reggie Lynch">Reggie Lynch</a> faces suspension over an alleged violation of the school’s sexual misconduct policy. (AP Photo/Jim Mone, File)
Minnesota center Reggie Lynch faces suspension over an alleged violation of the school’s sexual misconduct policy. (AP Photo/Jim Mone, File)

There are two questions that loom larger than any others in the wake of Minnesota’s decision to suspend standout center Reggie Lynch on Friday morning.

Why did Minnesota feel comfortable allowing Lynch to play this season despite him facing accusations of two separate incidents of sexual assault in spring 2016? And why does Lynch still remain a member of the Golden Gophers basketball program even though a school investigation found him responsible in one of the two sexual misconduct incidents?

Minnesota athletic director Mark Coyle and basketball coach Richard Pitino both spoke to reporters at a news conference in Minneapolis on Friday, but neither offered a convincing explanation for either decision. While declining to discuss the specifics of Lynch’s case because of student privacy laws, both cited university guidelines guaranteeing students “due process” when accused of a crime.

Said Pitino, “When certain things like this happen, you know big things, you go to your boss, you discuss it and you go with the policies that are in place.”

Said Coyle, “People should trust the procedures we have in place. We have procedures that have been reviewed by outside agencies. We have procedures people have focused on, worked on and followed. Those procedures include providing due process for everybody involved.”

The absence of more satisfactory and specific answers demands hard questions and further scrutiny. At some point Minnesota must address when Pitino and Coyle learned about the second alleged incident and whether they allowed Lynch’s significance to the basketball program to impact any of their decisions.

What we do know is that Lynch is a critically important piece of a Minnesota team that began the season with aspirations of challenging Michigan State and Purdue for the Big Ten title. The nation’s third-leading shot blocker averaged 10.1 points, 8.0 rebounds and 4.1 blocks so far this season and once again served as the backbone of the Golden Gopher defense.

What we also know is that Lynch has twice been accused of sexual misconduct but has never been charged with a crime.

The Minneapolis Star-Tribune reported Friday that Minnesota’s Equal Opportunity and Affirmative Action office found him responsible for sexual misconduct stemming from an April 2016 incident that took place in his dorm room. Lynch has the right to appeal his suspension from the basketball team and his ban from campus until August 2020.

One month after the April 2016 assault, Lynch was also arrested for a separate incident involving a different female accuser. He was suspended from the team at the time that allegation was made, but reinstated when no charges were filed.

Coyle said Friday that Lynch can practice with his Minnesota teammates while suspended but he will not be allowed to play in games. Neither Coyle nor Pitino ruled out the possibility that Lynch could play again this season.

Lynch is a transfer from Illinois State who came to Minnesota in 2015.  Asked if it was a mistake to recruit him, Pitino said, “I don’t know.” He later added that he and his staff “do a lot of background” before accepting a transfer and “never saw any red flags.”

The investigation into Lynch’s conduct is certainly not the first of its kind at Minnesota in recent years.

Last year, Minnesota’s football team threatened to boycott a bowl game over the suspension of 10 players accused of sexual assault. The year before that, athletic director Norwood Teague resigned amid sexual harassment complaints.

The basketball team hasn’t been immune to the problems either. In 2014, sophomore Daquein McNeil was kicked off the team after allegedly committing felony assault against his girlfriend. In February 2016, guards Nate Mason, Kevin Dorsey and Dupree McBrayer were suspended for the rest of the season after a sexually explicit video starring Dorsey was posted to his Twitter account. Dorsey was granted his release after the season, while Mason and McBrayer were reinstated.

 

When Pitino was asked if Minnesota had a cultural problem, he was adamant that the school doesn’t. He was less convincing when asked if the university’s policy needs to be changed to prevent a situation where a player is accused of sexual assault multiple times yet gets to play.

Said Pitino, “I’m just the basketball coach.”

And with that he ended a press conference that left more questions than answers.

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Jeff Eisenberg is a college basketball writer for Yahoo Sports. Have a tip? Email him at daggerblog@yahoo.com or follow him on Twitter!

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