Throughout this area, Jim Dutcher is known as a nice guy who looked for the best in his players.

"When I look back, I ask myself: 'Who am I obligated to?' " Dutcher said today. "In the tough decisions I make, who goes? And I guess my history is to go the extra mile with the team . . . This may lead to coaching suicide and, in this case, it probably has."

Dutcher, who had a 190-112 record in 10 1/2 seasons as basketball coach at the University of Minnesota, resigned Saturday after a woman in Madison, Wis., alleged that three of his players sexually assaulted her early Friday morning. One of the players, Mitch Lee, had been acquitted in another sexual assault case only two weeks earlier.

Dutcher said his resignation wasn't forced. He said he had considered it last year, around the time the first charge was filed against Lee. After Lee was arrested again last weekend, Dutcher decided to resign at the end of this season.

Then university administrators ordered Sunday's game against Northwestern forfeited and Dutcher quit immediately. Today, Dutcher said that when he was told about the forfeit on Saturday, the team was already on a bus going to the airport en route to Evanston, Ill., for the next day's game.

"I told them (administrators) I couldn't tell the team we were going to forfeit and then expect it to be competitive for the rest of the season. I know athletes," he said.

The university considered for two days whether to resume the season. On Monday, President Kenneth Keller announced the season would go on, with Jimmy Williams, Dutcher's top assistant, as acting head coach.

In the meantime, Dutcher said his friends in the profession all called and offered the same basic message: "It could have been any of us. You can't shoulder the responsibility," Dutcher recalled them saying. "I said, 'Who will?' "

His friends told him to disassociate himself with the three athletes -- Lee, Kevin Smith and George Williams -- and not return to Madison, where they were arraigned and formally charged Monday. "There are times and places to be expedient, but this is not one of them," Dutcher said.

While he accepts the blame because he was the coach, Dutcher disagrees that his program lacked discipline.

Yes, it was true the players had violated a midnight curfew and that there had not been a room check that night. Dutcher said the assistant who usually does the room check, the man who is now the head coach, took cold medication and went to sleep without checking.

But Dutcher had disciplined two other players (neither involved in the incident): they did not play that night because they had missed a study hall. Earlier, two players were held out of a game in Hawaii because they missed curfew by an hour there. One of those players, Dutcher said, was Williams.

Late tonight, two other players, Todd Alexander and Terence Woods, were suspended for what a source said was violating curfew the same night of the assault. Officials said neither student was a suspect in the alleged sexual assault.

Dutcher admitted that certain types of discipline were a problem because some players were more interested in playing than studying and some felt themselves to be more important than the team, perhaps because of the number of colleges that had recruited them when they were coming out of high school.

"You almost have to deprogram a guy that you are important but the program is more important," Dutcher said. "Like most kids, they had to be reminded that being a Division I athlete doesn't give you any privileges -- either academically or socially. The majority of people are going to learn that.

"People are looking for an explanation for why we are in this situation. And a very easy statement is, 'This program had no discipline.' That's really an oversimplification. Every single kid on our team is not committed to academic excellence. Some have to be reminded. Getting a degree is part of why you're here."

None of the three players allegedly involved in the current sexual assault case was "committed to academic excellence at this point," Dutcher said. "They had all improved. All were doing better (in the classroom)."

Dutcher said that Lee, a 6-foot-9 forward from Carol City, Fla., did not miss class or meetings with his academic counselors. "His problem," Dutcher said, "was the lack of a good strong academic background."

Williams, from Oakland, came from a strong family background. One brother is a dentist, another a lawyer. "George's background was tremendous," Dutcher said. "But he needed constant motivation about going to school and doing his work."

Smith was in college for one reason, Dutcher said: It was his road to pro basketball. "Kevin thought he was going to play pro ball. He put up with academics to do what he had to do to stay eligible and play pro ball."

Dutcher questions whether the system will change because of this incident or many of the others that have marred college athletics in the last decade, whether they be recruiting scandals, academic cheating or alleged criminal activity.

"I don't think they know how to get at it," Dutcher said. "The problem is that they want to run a clean program and also a competitive program. And I think that sometimes those things come in conflict. I'm not saying that in terms of just recruiting violations, but the setting of academic standards, the setting of codes of conduct, internal policies that are tougher than your competition's."

Minnesota will resume its season Thursday night, and Dutcher will have a decision to make. Will he go to Williams Arena for the Big Ten game against Ohio State?

"I want to go support the basketball team and I want to support the basketball coaches who were my assistants," Dutcher said. "But I don't want to be the focal point of the game or give the impression I'm grandstanding by going over there. I don't know what I'm going to do."

What he does know he wants to do is get back into coaching, as soon as possible.

"I'm realistic enough to know it would take a strong athletic director to hire me," Dutcher said. "It would be somebody who will make a judgment on my 30-year record in coaching against one incident. You know what the first question would be at the press conference: 'What happened at Minnesota?' "