University of Minnesota Athletic Director Joel Maturi recently allowed player Trevor Mbakwe to begin practicing with the rest of the men’s Gopher basketball team, even though Mbakwe faces a felony trial in December for an alleged assault in Miami, Florida. To allow Mbakwe into practice required Maturi to waive the student—athlete code of conduct, which states that a player charged with a felony may not enroll for courses and may not practice with the team. The code of conduct has clearly outlined rules for a reason, and regardless of his talent, Mbakwe should have been prohibited from practice.
This is an unfortunate example of an athletic department bending the rules for a premier recruit. If Mbakwe were not expected to play or contribute much in the future, Maturi likely would have adhered to the policy and not allowed Mbakwe to practice. And Maturi certainly has the authority to waive the code of conduct and lift Mbakwe’s suspension, but doing so sets a dishonorable and dangerous precedent. If players know that they can violate the student-athlete code of conduct with no repercussions, as long as they are important enough, the conduct code has no real authority and members of the team are invited to disrespect team rules and wider athletic standards.
Per the code of conduct, Maturi should not have allowed Mbakwe to practice with the Gophers. Instead, he should have acted to preserve the integrity of purposeful standards and waited for the verdict of Mbakwe’s trial.