Minnesota WR Chris Autman-Bell needs season-ending surgery on leg

Matt Blewett-USA TODAY Sports
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MINNEAPOLIS — Minnesota will enter Big Ten play without leading receiver Chris Autman-Bell, the sixth-year standout who has been scheduled for season-ending surgery on his right leg.

The unbeaten Gophers are used to this type of setback.

“It’s not if it’s going to happen to you. It’s when, and to who,” coach P.J. Fleck said after announcing the news.

Autman-Bell was hurt in Minnesota’s 49-7 win over Colorado on Saturday, when he landed awkwardly while trying to catch on off-target throw in the second quarter. He grabbed his leg in pain, needed help leaving the field and was sent to a hospital for further examination.

“Your heart breaks for him, because he’s worked incredibly hard,” Fleck said. “He responded the way you’d see somebody respond with really hard news, but it didn’t take him long to wipe those tears away. His mind was already on what he is going to do and accomplish and come back from.”

The procedure will take place on Wednesday. Fleck didn’t specify the diagnosis, other than to describe the injury as to Autman-Bell’s lower leg. The Gophers will apply to the NCAA for a medical redshirt that would allow him to return for a seventh season, should he wish to.

Last year, they lost star running back Mohamed Ibrahim in the first game for the rest of 2021 because of a torn Achilles tendon. Ibrahim’s attitude and determination served as an inspiration to the team since then, and his decision to come back for a sixth season influenced Autman-Bell, quarterback Tanner Morgan and center John Michael Schmitz to do the same.

Autman-Bell retweeted a poignant year-old post from Ibrahim shortly after his injury with the question “what if everything you are going through is preparing you for what you’ve asked for?”

Ibrahim is tied for second in the FBS with 464 rushing yards and tied for first with seven rushing touchdowns for the Gophers (3-0), who play at Michigan State (2-1) on Saturday.

Autman-Bell, a native of Kankakee, Illinois, was in Fleck’s first recruiting class at Minnesota after flipping his commitment and following him from Western Michigan. He redshirted that first year. The 2020 season didn’t count against anyone’s eligibility due to the COVID-19 pandemic.

With 1,970 career receiving yards, Autman-Bell ranks ninth in program history. He caught a 39-yard touchdown pass against Colorado before he was hurt. The team’s leading returning receiver from 2021, when he had 36 catches for 506 yards and six touchdowns, Autman-Bell has again been Morgan’s favored target.

The younger players around him at the position have developed to the point now where the depth ought not to drop off as sharply, with Michael Brown-Stephens, Dylan Wright and Daniel Jackson next in line. Tight end Brevyn Spann-Ford Will Likely have his pass-catching role elevated, too.

“If this happens maybe three or four years ago, maybe it has a different vibe,” Fleck said. “But there are a lot of guys who can make a ton of plays.”

Minnesota football players’ discrimination lawsuit dismissed

Jesse Johnson-USA TODAY Sports
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MINNEAPOLIS — A federal judge has dismissed a lawsuit filed by nine former University of Minnesota football players who were accused of sexual assault in 2016 in a case that roiled the school’s football program.

The lawsuit against the school claimed that the players faced emotional distress and financial damage after being falsely accused of being sex offenders. The players, who were identified in the lawsuit as John Does, sought unspecified damages for willful and malicious discrimination.

A woman alleged up to a dozen football players raped her or watched and cheered at an off-campus party in 2016. None of the players were ever charged.

The university found that 10 football players committed sexual misconduct. Five of them were expelled or suspended for violating student conduct codes, and the others were cleared on appeal.

In their lawsuit, the players alleged that the woman initiated the sexual encounters with players and an underage recruit.

U.S. District Court Judge Donovan Frank dismissed the lawsuit last week, saying the former players did not prove any of their claims, including allegations of bias by university investigators or pressure from Athletic Director Mark Coyle and former President Eric Kaler, the Minneapolis Star-Tribune reported.

David Madgett, an attorney for the players, said Tuesday that they are considering an appeal but have to determine if it makes sense financially and in terms of letting the former players get on with their lives. He said it was disappointing that the outcome was determined by the judge’s version of events and not decided by a jury.

“It’s disappointing to see disputes decided in this way,” Madgett said. “That’s the way things are decided more and more these days. … It’s disappointing you don’t get your day in court.”

When the allegations became public in 2016, players threatened to boycott the team’s trip to the Holiday Bowl. But after a graphic report of the investigation was released, the players agreed to play in the game.

University of Minnesota spokesman Jake Ricker said the school appreciated the judge’s decision affirming the actions taken in the case. He said the university would continue its work focusing on sexual misconduct awareness, prevention and response.

Frank dismissed the lawsuit in 2019, but an appeals court reinstated part of it in 2021 and returned it to Frank.

The players, all of whom are Black, also initially claimed racial discrimination, but that claim was previously dismissed.

The only remaining claim alleged Title IX gender discrimination. The former players noted that they never faced criminal charges, but Frank’s ruling said that “is certainly not evidence of a judicial adjudication or that plaintiffs ‘were proven innocent.'”

The men also claimed that an investigator for the university’s Office of Equal Opportunity and Affirmative Action used “manipulative tactics” with them in interviews and that their accuser helped draft the report. The players also alleged that “prior failed investigations motivated” the the school to punish them.

Frank said all the claims were unsupported by the evidence and “no reasonable jury could find that the University disciplined plaintiffs on the basis of sex.”

Michigan State player who swung helmet gets probation

Mike Carter-USA TODAY Sports
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ANN ARBOR, Mich. — A Michigan State football player who swung his helmet at a Michigan player in a stadium tunnel expressed regret Tuesday and said he’s “just looking forward to wuppin’ some maize and blue” on the field.

Khary Crump, a defensive back, was sentenced to probation. He was one of seven Michigan State players charged in a skirmish that followed a loss at Michigan Stadium on Oct. 29.

Crump was the only Spartan facing a felony, but that charge was dismissed in an agreement to plead guilty to misdemeanors. His record will be scrubbed clean if he stays out of trouble while on probation.

“Unfortunately, an exchange of words (took place), I felt attacked and unfortunately I did what I did,” Crump said of the tunnel altercation involving Michigan’s Gemon Green. “I’m not proud of that. I’m looking forward to moving forward.”

Crump was suspended by coach Mel Tucker. In addition, the Big Ten has suspended him for eight games in 2023.

“I had difficulties trying to stomach my actions … on that fateful day, but it happened. I can’t take it back,” Crump told MLive.com after the court hearing. “Honestly, I’m just looking forward to wuppin’ some maize and blue in the future — on the football field, of course.”

At least four other players charged with misdemeanors Will Likely have their cases dismissed in exchange for community service and other conditions. The cases against two others are pending.