New Coach. New Rules. New Team.

Gopher football’s new head coach looks to move forward from last year’s boycott

Illustrator: Kate Doyle

With a surprising winning record, catchy new slogan, and the youngest Big Ten football coach in history known for his inspiring pregame speeches, it’s tough not to be a Gopher football fan today.

But with all of the hype surrounding the new head coach, P.J. Fleck, it seems that Gopher fans have forgotten why there was a need for a new coach in the first place.

On January 3, 2017, the University of Minnesota fired former football head coach Tracy Claeys due to his support of his entire team’s two-day boycott of all football activities. This boycott was a response to ten players being suspended on charges of sexual assault that occurred on September 2, 2016 involving a female student. Since then, the sexual assault charges have been dropped, with five players having their suspensions overturned, four being expelled, and one receiving a one-year suspension.

With all eyes on the new coach, he’s doing exactly what a person in his position should do; he’s putting his foot down.

Fleck responded to last year’s incident by telling his players that if anyone is ever involved in a similar incident, “there [will be] no place for you in this program.” He has instituted a type of “zero tolerance” policy which is popular among the NCAA, but doesn’t seem to be decreasing sexual assaults among their players at the rates they hoped for.

Along with the zero-tolerance policy, Fleck has installed the “Gopher for Life” program, featuring sexual assault prevention professionals from the University of Minnesota’s Aurora Center, as well as more well-known speakers to educate athletes on prevention, bystander intervention, and understanding for the victim when it comes to sexual assault.

This program is similar to the one under former head coaches Jerry Kill and Tracy Claeys, who ranked among the nation’s best when it came to fewest arrests from 2011 to 2015. However, the former coaches only held about four sessions per year.

Fleck wishes to increase the number of sessions in hopes of rebuilding a franchise that all Gopher fans can gladly cheer for.