The resignation of Minnesota basketball coach Jim Dutcher in the wake of the arrests of three of his players on a rape complaint has left the Big Ten Conference shocked and confused.
On Saturday, in a televised Minneapolis news conference in which Dutcher stepped down in the middle of his 11th season, Minnesota President Kenneth Keller said that besides forfeiting today's game at Northwestern, the school might cancel the rest of its schedule.
Today, however, league sources were saying it was "highly unlikely" that Minnesota would fail to play its remaining 11 games.
"In a school with 40,000 students, you can field a basketball team," one source said. "They have to play the games for their own integrity and because of what not playing would mean to the league."
The Big Ten will have to pay back at least a portion of its rights fee to the Lorimar Sports Network because of today's forfeited game. And there would be lost revenues at each school that has home games scheduled with Minnesota.
Far more important, of course, is the question of what happened and what will happen next at Minnesota.
The story began unraveling Friday morning at the Madison, Wis., airport. Minnesota, having beaten Wisconsin Thursday night, was leaving town when police arrived, stopped the team and began questioning all 10 players. Eventually, three players -- sophomores Mitchell Lee, Kevin Smith and George Williams -- were arrested and held at Dane County Jail in Madison without bail. They are expected to be formally charged Monday with second-degree sexual assault in the alleged attack early Friday on an 18-year-old woman at the Concourse Hotel, where the team was staying.
The Madison incident is said to have begun with the woman coming into the hotel accompanied by Smith, whom sources said she knew.
Ten days before, Lee had been acquitted of third-degree sexual assault in an alleged Minnesota dormitory rape of a year ago. With the new arrests, sources say Dutcher, 52, was left no choice in the eyes of school officials but to give up the job in which his record was 190-112.
Keller and Athletic Director Paul Giel said they would announce no later than Tuesday whether Minnesota will continue the season. If, as expected, the Gophers do play, an interim coach will be named then. No one is certain who that would be.
Jimmy Williams, Dutcher's No. 1 assistant, was the chief recruiter and therefore is at least partially responsible for the presence of the players currently in jail. Whoever takes over will have only seven scholarship players, since Keller deemed it unlikely any of three arrested players ever will play again for Minnesota.
School officials were not returning calls today.
Dutcher took over Minnesota's program in 1975, in the aftermath of the tumultuous Bill Musselman era. Musselman brought great talent to Minnesota but trouble found its way in, too.
In 1970, it was a factor in a national outcry against violence in the game when, during a brawl, several Minnesota players stomped and kicked Ohio State center Luke Witte as he lay on the floor. Five years later, Musselman left after Minnesota confessed to 111 NCAA rules violations, most of them in recruiting.
Into this background and a three-year probation stepped Dutcher. He was not a popular choice with boosters who had liked the tempestuous Musselman -- after all, he won a lot. But Dutcher won them over in 1977 with a 24-3 record and an unofficial Big Ten title -- unofficial since the Gophers still were on probation and had played two athletes declared ineligible by the NCAA in the Musselman investigation.
The season made Dutcher popular with boosters but apparently he never got caught up in their activities. He would politely decline invitations to postgame parties, saying he preferred to go home and spend time with his family.
In 1980, Minnesota reached the National Invitation Tournament final and in 1982 it was 23-6 and champion of the Big Ten. Last year the team was 13-15. This year, after beginning conference play with three losses, the Gophers broke Michigan's 20-game Big Ten winning streak and their victory at Wisconsin seemed to position them to make a run, with weak Northwestern and two home games upcoming.
"You can always look at where you are and where you want to be, and where you're heading, and I'm not pleased with the direction we're heading," Dutcher said when he resigned. "I was convinced, for my own mental health at this point, this was the thing that had to be done."
Dutcher will be retained in another capacity in the university athletic department at least until the end of the school year. He told the St. Paul Pioneer Press and Dispatch he will not abandon the three players and will be in Madison for their arraignment Monday.
"Those are my players, men I brought to Minnesota from hundreds of miles away," Dutcher said. "They are away from their families. Maybe I can't monitor their every move, but I can still be there when they need me."
Conviction on the charge facing the players carries a maximum penalty of 10 years in prison and a $10,000 fine.
Dutcher's resignation comes less than two months after Lou Holtz, who had rebuilt Minnesota football, resigned to coach at Notre Dame. When Giel was asked Saturday if he had also considered resigning, he replied with a wan smile, "I've considered resigning lots of times."