The University of Minnesota will continue its basketball season, but the three players accused of sexually assaulting a woman in Madison, Wis., last week will not be reinstated to the team even if they are found innocent in court, university president Kenneth Keller said today.
In a related development, Keller named Jimmy Williams, an assistant coach here for the past 15 years, as interim coach. He replaces Jim Dutcher, who resigned Saturday after Keller decided to forfeit Sunday's regionally televised Big Ten game against Northwestern.
The Gophers' next game is here Thursday night against Ohio State. With Mitch Lee, Kevin Smith and George Williams facing charges in Madison, Minnesota will have eight scholarship players available. In addition, a redshirt player and a couple of football players will practice with the team, university officials said.
In Madison, Lee, 20, of Carol City, Fla., was charged with one count of first-degree sexual assault and two counts of second-degree sexual assault; Smith, 21, of Lansing, Mich., was charged with one count each of first- and second-degree assault, and Williams, 19, of Oakland, was charged with one count of second-degree sexual assault.
First-degree sexual assault is described as a sexual assault with a weapon or other force. Second-degree sexual assault is sex against the victim's consent. Conviction of first-degree sexual assault caries a maximum penalty of 20 years in jail. The penalty for second-degree sexual assault is 10 years in jail, a $10,000 fine or both.
A preliminary hearing was scheduled for Feb. 6.
Dane County Court Commissioner Todd Meurer set a cash bail of $5,500 for Lee, $4,000 for Smith and $1,000 for Williams. He rejected defense requests that the three be released on their own recognizance because of the "serious and violent" nature of the alleged crime and the fact that they have no Wisconsin ties. Lee and Williams were released late this afternoon after posting bond. Smith did not make bail and remained in jail tonight.
The alleged crime, against an 18-year-old student at Madison Area Technical College, occurred in the early-morning hours of Friday, a few hours after Minnesota had defeated Wisconsin in a Big Ten game.
Keller said he decided to resume the season because the problem would not be rectified by the short-term solution of canceling the Gophers' last 11 regular-season games.
"The other eight have been traumatized by that offense," he said in a news conference today. "They have not been involved in it. They appear, at this point, less likely than any other group of young people in the country to get themselves into difficulty within the next several weeks."
Keller said he made a mistake by allowing Lee to be reinstated to the team after he recently was acquitted of a third-degree sexual assault charge against a university student. It was in that context that he said he would not resinstate Lee, Smith or Williams even if they were found innocent in Madison.
"The issues of legal guilt or innocence are quite different from whether a person can properly represent the University of Minnesota," Keller said. "In my view they will not (be reinstated), on the basis of the facts I have today, regardless of the legal outcome and unless those facts are without basis."
Instead of canceling the season, Keller pledged university resources to increased efforts to aid victims of sexual assault and to "increase community sensitivity to this problem." He also said he would form a task force to make recommendations to alleviate the win-at-all-costs atmosphere prevalent in major college sports today.
He said the task force would study "the important question of how we avoid getting into a situation where we are one day from disaster. That is not acceptable to a university, and we don't want to continue that." Keller said that he had talked to other Big Ten presidents in making his decision and the conference could act as a national leader in bringing about reforms of the system.
"We are not at all prepared to say that this issue is behind us because we have settled the question of continuing a basketball program for the next several weeks," Keller said. "The solution does not lie in ending the season but equally well it does not lie in taking this action and avoiding the other questions that I've raised."
Richard B. Heydinger, senior assistant to Keller, said afterward that Minnesota would begin giving more weight to recruiting basketball players with stronger academic credentials and better character, instead of basing recruiting decisions primarily on athletic ability.
Heydinger said that Keller considered a number of options before deciding on Jimmy Williams, 38, who was the Gophers' top recruiter. Those options included bringing in a name coach out of retirement to finish out the season as a consultant or to bring in a local coach without any ties to the program.
"You can't underestimate the value of his being there at a time when we need continuity," said Frank Wilderson, university vice president in charge of athletics.