MINNEAPOLIS - Moving forward, Mark Coyle will be more informed during Office of Equal Opportunity and Affirmative Action investigations that involve Gophers student-athletes.
The new student-athlete code of conduct, which came into effect in January, outlines a process in which more communication exists between the athletic director and other University of Minnesota entities.
The school's EOAA and its Office for Student Conduct and Academic Integrity are responsible for addressing student conduct that may violate Title IX, such as sexual misconduct. The EOAA handles investigations, meeting and interviewing the primary parties and relevant witnesses to determine "whether it was more likely than not that the accused student violated the student conduct code."
The new code of conduct states that, at the time of the initiation of an investigation, the EOAA or the OCS "will inform the athletic director of the investigation of a respondent student-athlete and will provide the athletic director a description of complainant's allegations, other relevant information, and, if applicable, copies of police reports."
That was not a mandated part of the process when EOAA investigations into accusations of sexual misconduct were taking place involving the Gophers football team in 2016 or Gophers basketball player Reggie Lynch in 2017. Both of those investigations led to recommendations of expulsion from the EOAA.
Should a similar situation arise in the future, Coyle will have more information earlier in the process. The new code of conduct seems to up Coyle's potential involvement and responsibility in such cases involving the EOAA and student-athletes, but the athletic director reiterated that the communication is what matters most.
"I think if we can continue to have that communication between the units to make sure we understand where we're at in the investigation, what information do we have ... we can make the best decision for the student athlete and for the institution on how we move forward," Coyle said.
The new code of conduct also states that if initial findings of the EOAA or OCS offer a sanction of suspension or expulsion, the student-athlete will automatically be suspended pending a hearing.
Last week, Coyle said he's a "firm believer it's not the athletics director's job to investigate anything. That's got to go through the EOAA, and we'll always be respectful of that process."
The new code of conduct states that sanctions such as an interim suspension "generally will not be imposed before initial findings have been made by EOAA or OCS," with the exception of when the EOAA believes the alleged conduct will subject a student-athlete to suspension or expulsion and the athletic director believes the evidence is "substantial, corroborated, and compelling." In that case, Coyle could subject a student-athlete to an interim suspension "or other interim sanctions," prior to the EOAA's initial findings.
Coyle said his office worked with the U's student-athlete group, U President Eric Kaler's office, the Board of Regents and general counsel in crafting the new code of conduct, with the goal of having a "very transparent process."
"The changes you've seen have helped make it more clear so everybody does understand the process," Coyle said. "Our program has been through a lot, and we want to make sure that we continue to grow and build, and again we continue to provide a first-class experience for every student, so we worked closely with all parties on campus with that."