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Reggie Lynch 'still a part' of Gophers basketball but won't play Saturday, AD says

Minnesota Gophers center Reggie Lynch (22) dribbles in the first half against the Illinois Fighting Illini forward Kipper Nichols (2) at Williams Arena in Minneapolis on Jan. 3, 2018. Brad Rempel / USA TODAY Sports

MINNEAPOLIS — University of Minnesota center Reggie Lynch is "still a part of" the basketball program and can practice with the team despite being found responsible for violating the U's sexual misconduct policy, athletics director Mark Coyle said Friday, Jan. 5.

After an investigation by the university's Office for Equal Opportunity and Affirmative Action, it was determined that Lynch violated the school's policies on sexual misconduct and on university rules during an incident in a dorm room in May 2016.

Lynch, a senior from Edina, plans to appeal a decision to suspend him from school and ban him from campus until at least Aug. 1, 2020, according to EOAA findings obtained by the Pioneer Press. During the appeal, he will be suspended from playing in games but is eligible to practice, receive medical treatment and have access to an academic adviser.

"We felt that when we suspend a student-athlete, we suspend them from a competition," Coyle said. "We want to make sure that student-athlete has access to athletic medicine and treatment, academic services, an opportunity to continue to compete and be around this team. So, we thought it was important to go in that direction."

Lynch will not play in the Gophers' home game Saturday against Indiana. It was unclear whether he will be at Williams Arena for the 4:15 p.m. tipoff. The 2016-17 Big Ten defensive player of the year has averaged 10 points, 7.7 points and 3.9 blocks in 15 games this season for the Gophers (13-3 overall, 2-1 Big Ten).

Coyle and men's basketball coach Richard Pitino met with Lynch on Friday morning to inform him of his suspension from games.

"When certain things like this happen, big things, you go to your boss," Pitino said. "Certainly, you discuss and you go with the policies that are in place more than anything. And we did that."

According to the EOAA findings, "The specific rule alleged to have been violated: Administrative Policy: Sexual Assault, Stalking and Relationship Violence." Had Lynch not planned to appeal, the EOAA's recommendations would have gone into effect on Tuesday.

The EOAA investigation had been ongoing for multiple months while Lynch continued to play for the Gophers, a decision Coyle stood by on Friday.

"People should trust the procedures that we have in place," he said. "We have procedures that have been reviewed by outside agencies. We have procedures that people have focused on and worked on to a fault. Those procedures include providing due process for everybody involved. It's my job as the athletic director, it's coach Pitino's job as the head coach to make sure that we support everybody involved in every case we deal with."

This was the second EOAA investigation into an alleged sexual assault by Lynch, a senior who transferred to Minnesota after two seasons at Illinois State. He was arrested on suspicion of raping a 19-year-old woman in a campus apartment building on May 8, 2016, but wasn't charged.

In that case, the EOAA investigation found it more likely than not that Lynch reasonably believed the sex was consensual.

After that arrest, Lynch was suspended from the team and Minneapolis police investigated the case. The Hennepin County attorney chose not to charge him, and Lynch was reinstated after the EOAA investigation.

This time, Lynch has been found to have violated the U's rules on sexual misconduct in a separate incident around the same time. The victim was a 20-year-old student attending a separate university. Because there was no police investigation, Lynch was not suspended pending the EEOA findings.

The victim did report the incident to university police, who declined to move on the case, according to a police report addendum filed on Feb. 27, 2017. Both Pitino and Coyle declined to say when they were made aware that Lynch was again under investigation by the EOAA. The athletic department, though, was notified in October, according to a source, which followed EOAA investigation protocol.

"What I can say is, and I know it's frustrating, that because of student privacy laws — both federal and state — we're restricted on what we can say and can't say," Coyle said.

School president Eric Kaler on Friday released a statement in support of his athletics director.

"I support the decision of Athletic Director Mark Coyle," he said. "Out of respect for the law and our robust and comprehensive student conduct code, I am unable to comment as to any particular matter. Our code applies to all students. We expect all students to know this code and to adhere to it. We also respect due process."

The latest is yet another incident involving Gophers athletes or administrators and sexual misconduct.

• In March of 2016, three basketball players — including two still with the team — were suspended after one posted a video on social media of sex acts including the players.

• In December of 2016, 10 Gophers football players were suspended following an EOAA investigation into a sexual assault, though four of those players were later cleared of wrongdoing by a school panel. Four were expelled, and two were suspended.

• In May 2017, associate athletics director Randy Handel was suspended and demoted following an investigation into sexual harassment of women he worked with.

• Coyle's predecessor, former AD Norwood Teague, resigned in August 2015 after he acknowledged sexually harassing two peers during a management retreat that summer.

"We have worked incredibly hard to provide a first-class experience for any student-athlete that comes through our program, and since I got here in June of 2016, we have talked very hard about (making) sure that we are defined by our actions, by having great humility and by representing this institution in a first-class manner," Coyle said.

"And I feel like each time we are faced with a situation involving any student-athlete, any staff member, we want to handle it appropriately and swiftly, and I feel like we have been very consistent in that process."

The Gophers men's basketball team held a closed-door practice Friday and it was not clear whether Lynch took part in it.

"It's a unique situation certainly," Pitino said. "My biggest focus is got to get the guys ready tomorrow who are going to play."

Pitino insisted there's not a culture problem within his program.

"I don't believe that we do," he said. "We're going to try to get better every single day and we take a lot of pride in our culture and educating our guys. And we'll continue to do that, so I don't believe so."

The Pioneer Press is a Forum News Service media partner.

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