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Minnesota suspends 10 players ahead of Holiday Bowl vs. Washington State

The Gophers have bad news to report two weeks ahead of their Holiday Bowl appearance.

NCAA Football: Colorado State at Minnesota
Minnesota head coach Tracy Claeys.
Jesse Johnson-USA TODAY Sports

Minnesota has indefinitely suspended 10 football players in the run-up to the Gophers’ Holiday Bowl appearance later this month, multiple local outlets reported Tuesday night. The program hasn’t said if any of the players would have their suspensions lifted for that Dec. 27 (7 p.m. ET, ESPN) game against Washington State.

The list of suspended players, via the Minneapolis Star Tribune: Ray Buford, Carlton Djam, KiAnte Hardin, Dior Johnson, Tamarion Johnson, Antonio Shenault, Kobe McCrary, Mark Williams, Seth Green, and Antoine Winfield Jr.

In a statement obtained by the paper, Minnesota said, “Due to privacy restrictions relating to student educational data, there is nothing further the University can share.”

Winfield is a starting safety on Minnesota’s defense. Hardin, Shenault, and Buford are cornerbacks in the Gophers’ rotation. Washington State has one of the most prolific, frequently tapped passing offenses in the country.

Hardin is the team’s starting punt and kick returner on Minnesota’s most recent two-deep depth chart. McCrary is the No. 3 running back. Several of the suspended players don’t factor in anywhere on Minnesota’s depth chart.

Hardin, Buford, and both Johnsons were suspended once this season, for a “violation of team rules” in September, according to the Star Tribune. That stemmed from an investigation of an alleged incident on Sept. 2 and lasted the better part of a month, ending when Hennepin County, Minn., declined to press charges against the players.

Those four players and Djam had restraining orders that kept them from the Gophers’ stadium, where an alleged victim “is part of the Gophers game day operations,” according to the paper.

Some more detail from the Pioneer Press, citing one of the players’ fathers:

Ray Buford Sr., a 17-year law enforcement official in Michigan, told the Pioneer Press that the suspensions are tied to an early-morning incident on Sept. 2 where four players — Buford, Hardin, Dior Johnson and Tamarion Johnson — were “mentioned” in a Minneapolis Police report that included a woman’s allegations of sexual assault. The Hennepin County Attorney’s Office declined Oct. 3 to press charges, citing insufficient evidence.

Buford said the new suspensions are the result an investigation by the University’s Office of Equal Opportunity and Affirmative Action (EOAA) and were relayed at 5 p.m. Tuesday. Buford said “some” of the players were recommended for expulsion from the university, and he added that will be met with appeals.

“The closer you were to the lady, the harsher the recommendation,” Buford said.

It’s not clear what new information became available between September and now. But university disciplinary processes are run separately and differently than law enforcement’s, and they can reach entirely different outcomes after examining the same cases.