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Three Gopher football players cleared after sexual assault allegations

MINNEAPOLIS -- Three University of Minnesota football players won appeals and two lost appeals Monday over a University of Minnesota panel’s recommended punishments on their alleged involvement in a sexual assault and harassment case of a female student in September, one of their attorneys confirmed to the Pioneer Press.

U provost Karen Hanson oversaw the appeals process and ruled Monday that safety Antoine Winfield Jr., quarterback Mark Williams and running back Kobe McCrary will not face punishment recommended by the school’s investigation into the incident at an off-campus apartment, attorney Ryan Pacyga said.

Later Monday, the school announced those three players along with cornerback Antonio Shenault and quarterback Seth Green “have been reinstated to team-related activities.” The Gophers will have their third spring practice on Tuesday.

Meanwhile, cornerback KiAnte Hardin had his recommended punishment of expulsion upheld, and running back Carlton Djam had his punishment, which was downgraded by the panel from expulsion to a one-year suspension, upheld by the provost.

Pacyga said further appeals to the Title IX investigation would go to the federal court system and are being considered.

Of the 10 players embroiled in the ordeal, three were recommended for expulsion and have already transferred to Arizona Western Community College: cornerback Ray Buford, defensive end Tamarion Johnson and safety Dior Johnson.

Winfield Jr., the son of the former Vikings cornerback by the same name, shared his thoughts.

“These couple of months have been nothing short of a nightmare for me and I want to thank everyone who has reached out to me and shown nothing but love,” Winfield wrote in a message on Twitter. “Today I have officially been cleared and I am excited to tear up the field for my brothers and my gophers fans. Gods always got me. Let’s get to work! #RTB”

The U said they cannot comment further “due to privacy restrictions relating to student educational data.”

Winfield, the son of the former Vikings cornerback by the same name, and others had been held out of Gophers’ spring practice two weeks ago after the woman who was at the center of the alleged sexual assault appealed the panel’s decision to not suspend Winfield for a year.

Winfield’s year suspension was among a series of 10 punishments for the players that were recommended by the University’s Equal Opportunity and Affirmative Action office before the Gophers beat Washington State 17-12 in the Holiday Bowl on Dec. 27.

Attempts to reach the attorneys representing the woman as well as the nine other players were unsuccessful on Monday night.

The Hennepin County attorney’s office declined to press charges against any of the players in October, and again in December after the EOAA report was obtained by their office. But the school’s Title IX investigation is based on a preponderance of evidence, which is a different standard than the “beyond a reasonable doubt” threshold necessary in the criminal justice system.

Pacyga questioned the university’s EOAA process after half of the recommended punishments were changed either by the panel of the appeals process.

“If the university really wants to improve these things, you don’t just say here’s the solution we are going to move freshman athletes on campus, You start to say we can do better in these investigations as well,” Pacyga said. “Now they have an EOAA report that is half torched.”