A day after Northwestern announced a two-week suspension for football coach Pat Fitzgerald for hazing allegations, the university president issued a second statement suggesting that the school “may have erred” in the severity of its discipline.
Late Saturday, university president Michael Schill sent a letter to the Northwestern community that he and the school perhaps hadn’t gone far enough in suspended the longtime face of the program for two weeks without pay.
“In determining an appropriate penalty for the head coach, I focused too much on what the report concluded he didn’t know and not enough on what he should have known,” the letter said in part. “As the head coach of one of our athletics programs, coach Fitzgerald is not only responsible for what happens within the program but also must take great care to uphold our institutional commitment to the student experience.
“Clearly, he failed to uphold that commitment, and I failed to sufficiently consider that failure in levying a sanction.”
Schill said that he had a change of heart after speaking with the family of the former player who had originally made the allegations of wrongdoing. ESPN reported that the player and school spoke directly on Sunday as well.
A new punishment will be considered among the Northwestern board of trustees and other university leaders. Fitzgerald’s initial suspension began Friday.
Fitzgerald, 48, has been the head coach of the Big Ten program since 2006 and was previously a two-time consensus All-American linebacker for the school.
The university received a complaint in late November alleging instances of hazing that occurred inside the team’s locker room and at an off-campus practice in Kenosha, Wis. Investigators spoke with more than 50 people currently or previously affiliated with the program and reviewed emails and player survey data dating back to 2014, per the executive summary of the probe.
“The investigation team determined that the complainant’s claims were largely supported by the evidence gathered during the investigation, including separate and consistent first-person accounts from current and former players,” per the summary.
“While the investigation did not uncover evidence pointing to specific misconduct by any individual football player or coach, participation in or knowledge of the hazing activities was widespread across football players.”
“I was very disappointed when I heard about the allegations of hazing on our football team,” Fitzgerald said. “Although I was not aware of the alleged incidents, I have spoken to University officials, and they informed me of a two-week suspension, effective immediately.
“Northwestern football prides itself on producing not just athletes, but fine young men with character befitting the program and our University. We hold our student-athletes and our program to the highest standards; we will continue to work to exceed those standards moving forward.”
A statement from a collective of current players released Saturday night called into question the validity of the accusations.
“It is disheartening to see that the allegations brought forth against our team have been exaggerated and twisted into lies. These fabrications have been made with the intention of harming our program and tarnish the reputation of our dedicated players and coaching staff,” the players’ statement said. “We firmly deny the validity of these accusations and stand united in our assertion that they do not reflect the true character of our team.”
In addition to Fitzgerald’s suspension, Northwestern also originally announced a discontinuation of football practices at “Camp Kenosha” and an independent monitor being assigned to the team among several changes aimed at providing better oversight.
The Wildcats are coming off a 1-11 record in 2022. They will open the 2023 season at Rutgers on Sept. 3.
Fitzgerald is 110-101 with 10 bowl appearances (5-5 record) in 17 seasons as the head coach at his alma mater.
–Field Level Media