Is Minnesota Treating Basketball Star Royce White Fairly?

Kevin LindseyAnalyst IDecember 18, 2009

CHICAGO - MARCH 08:  Goldie, the mascot for the Minnesota Golden Gophers supports it's team against the Michigan Wolverines during Day 1 of the Big Ten Men's Basketball Conference Tournament March 8, 2007 at the United Center in Chicago, Illinois.   (Photo by Jonathan Daniel/Getty Images)
Jonathan Daniel/Getty Images

The current suspension of Royce White by the University of Minnesota raises interesting questions on what constitutes sufficient information to indefinitely suspend a college athlete.

White was initially suspended from the team when he was arrested on October 13 for shoplifting at the Mall of America and fifth-degree misdemeanor assault at stemming from a subsequent altercation with a security guard.   White reached a plea agreement on December 2 to pay $600 in fines and stay away from the mall for a year.

In most instances, a student-athlete that has been arrested is generally suspended from his or her team until the legal process has run its course. If the Mall of America incident concerning White was the only issue, White likely would have been back on the team to face Brown on December 5.

Unfortunately for White he was identified on November 7 as a person of interest involving the disappearance of a laptop computer from a dorm room on campus.  Initially, the University of Minnesota police indicated that they anticipated that the investigation would be completed within two weeks.

If the investigation concerning the laptop had been completed within two weeks and there was not sufficient probable cause to arrest White, he would likely have been back on the team by December 5.  

However, the investigation conducted by the University of Minnesota Police however was not completed until December 16.  No arrests were made upon completion of the investigation.

University of Minnesota should therefore reinstate White now that the police department decided not to bring forth charges?  Not so fast.

The investigation file has now been forwarded to the Minneapolis city attorney's office to review in order to determine whether there are sufficient facts to support whether a criminal prosecution should be initiated. 

Minnesota’s Athletic Department is taking the position that White should remain suspended pending a final determination being made by the Minneapolis city attorney’s office.

Why is White continuing to be subject to indefinite suspension by the University of Minnesota if the police have investigated the matter and do not believe that there is probable cause to arrest him?

If the Minneapolis City Attorney’s office waits until the end of basketball season and decides not to charge him, White will have been suspended for the entire season without any entity ever making a finding that there was probable cause to believe he took the laptop.

An allegation of criminal conduct shouldn’t be enough by itself to prevent a student-athlete from competing.

Critics of White believe that where there is smoke there is fire and given his past problems in high school, his arrest in October and subsequent plea in November, the University is being prudent in maintaining White’s indefinite suspension. 

Supporters of White would point out that punishing someone without having at least probable cause to believe that the person is responsible offends our country’s notion of justice and due process.

Further complicating the position of the University toward White is the decision of the University of Minnesota not to suspend two football players, Michael Carter and Gary Tinsley, this season despite both players being arrested.

The facts surrounding Tinsley’s arrest and the University failing to suspend him can’t be justified in light of White’s suspension. 

In responding to a call, police saw Tinsley “swinging a wooden board amid a crowd of people.”  Police subsequently issued a citation from Tinsley for underage drinking and fleeing the police.

The decision not to suspend Tinsley despite his arrest and observations by the police of dangerous conduct is inconsistent with its actions toward White concerning the disappearance of the laptop.  The differential treatment by the University can’t be reconciled.

Attempting to rationalize the differential treatment on the basis of the players being members of two different athletic teams is not justifiable.

If White and Tinsley were faculty members from different schools within the University of Minnesota instead of student-athletes from different athletic teams. . . . one can only imagine the uproar and subsequent protest by the aggrieved faculty members.

The University needs to reexamine its rationale for continuing the indefinite suspension of White. 

The investigation by the police has been completed and no arrests were made in response to the investigation.  Further, the University should seek to develop a consistent policy that can be applied for all student-athletes.

If a player is arrested, the player at a minimum should miss a game and potentially all games while the criminal investigation is being conducted. 

In the absence of an arrest, a player should be suspended only if there is probable cause by University officials to believe that a law or team rule has been violated.

Some Gopher fans have no sympathy for White because he started the downward spiral for his season when acted inappropriately in October at the Mall of America.  No one should disagree with the decision to suspend White following his arrest and subsequent plea agreement. 

However, what now justifies White current indefinite suspension?

“Gophers’ Tinsley Cited by Police, won’t be suspended,” ESPN, Adam Rittenberg, October 1, 2009.