Michigan Wolverines Football: Handling Of Brendan Gibbons Raises Questions About Institutional Control


Sep 7, 2013; Ann Arbor, MI, USA; Michigan Wolverines kicker Brendan Gibbons (34) celebrates with long snapper Jareth Glanda (54) after kicking a field goal during the second quarter against the Notre Dame Fighting Irish at Michigan Stadium. Mandatory Credit: Andrew Weber-USA TODAY Sports

A disturbing story 4 years in the making has brought unwanted attention to the Michigan Wolverines football program.  As first reported by Washtenaw Watchdogs kicker Brendan Gibbons was arrested in 2009 after an alleged 2009 sexual misconduct.

After nearly 4 years, the University of Michigan has now finally decided to act by expelling its place kicker. The recent action raises serious questions about what the university knew, when they knew it and why it took them so long to act.

See Original Story on Washtenaw Watchdogs

Police reports obtained by Douglas Smith of Washtenaw Watchdogs include detailed descriptions of the alleged assault in 2009.  The story on Watchdogs also reports that All-American Lineman Taylor Lewan made a threat against the victim who later dropped the charges against the Gibbons.

Both allegations made in the story are corroborated in Ann Arbor Police reports and witness statements obtained by Watchdogs using the Freedom of Information Act.

Because the charges were dropped the incident went largely unnoticed by the media.

That is until Tuesday.

The Michigan Daily, the university’s student newspaper, reported yesterday that Brendan Gibbons received a “permanent separation” or expulsion on December 20th related to the incident in 2009. University of Michigan’s Office of Student Conflict Resolution (or OSCR) reviewed evidence obtained by an internal investigation and concluded that Gibbons should be expelled related to the alleged sexual assault. According to the article in Michigan Daily, the OSCR operates separately from law enforcement and has a burden of proof lower than that of criminal investigations.

"Investigators in the University’s Office of Institutional Equity, which reviews internal complaints of sexual assault, work with a lower standard of evidence than that of criminal prosecutors, who must prove that a defendant is guilty beyond a reasonable doubt. OIE may presume that a respondent engaged in alleged conduct if there is a “preponderance of evidence” against the individual. This standard states that a respondent is responsible if there is enough evidence to suggest a complaint is more likely true than not."

An additional document obtained by Michigan Daily dated November 20, 2013 stated “that a preponderance of evidence was present to find Gibbons responsible for the alleged sexual assault.” The letter was dated 3 days before Brendan Gibbons played in a game against the Iowa Hawkeyes.

A week later Gibbons was ruled out of playing against Ohio State because of a “muscle problem”. He was then excluded from the teams trip to the Buffalo Wild Wings Bowl related to a “family problem” in Florida.

By that time Gibbons had already received a letter at his Florida residence stating he had been permanently separated from the university.

What Took So Long?

Why did it take over three years for the University of Michigan Athletic Department to act on a reported sexual assault by one of its football players?  There is no immediate answer to that question.  All that is known is University Officials had the information on the alleged incident for at least three years. Yet no official action until just before Brendan Gibbons eligibility was exhausted.

The University also had information of the alleged threat made to the victim by Taylor Lewan, yet no disciplinary action was taken against the All-American linemen.

The University is not commenting citing FERPA law, but its delayed action show a clear disregard for the victim and the serious nature of the allegation.

What Did Brady Hoke Know and When Did He Know It?

Considering the OSCR findings presented in a letter on November 20th, was Brady Hoke aware that Gibbons was about to be expelled from the University of Michigan for sexual misconduct?  Was that letter presented to Hoke and if so; why did he let him play in the game on November 23rd.

If Hoke didn’t know about the pending expulsion, does that indicate a disturbing lack of communication between the University and its football program? Or does it illustrate a complete disregard for University disciplinary procedures?

Either way Brady Hoke and Athletic Director David Brandon should answer questions regarding the decision to play a student about to be expelled for such a serious offense.

Lack of Institutional Control

According to a document prepared by the University of Illinois, Institutions must meet the following criteria to exhibit institutional control over their athletic program:

Control its intercollegiate athletic programs in compliance with the rules and regulations of the NCAA;

Monitor its program to ensure compliance;

Identify and report to the NCAA instances in which compliance has not been achieved and take corrective actions; and

Insure those members of the University staff, student-athletes and other individuals or groups representing the University’s athletic interests comply with NCAA rules and regulations

Did Michigan’s Athletic Department demonstrate institutional control over its football program in this incident? If a lack of control does exist, how many other incidents have gone unaddressed by University Officials?

With the stink Penn State scandal still fresh in the air, it may be a question that the NCAA is forced to answer after conducting an investigation of its own.