Northwestern president says he ‘may have erred’ in football coach’s suspension following hazing allegations investigation

Northwestern University president Michael Schill said he “may have erred in weighing the appropriate sanction” after suspending head football coach Pat Fitzgerald for two weeks.

Fitzgerald’s immediate suspension without pay on Friday followed an investigation into allegations of hazing within the Wildcats’ program as the coach entered his 18th season leading the team.

“The confidential report concluded that while there was corroborating evidence that hazing had occurred, there was no direct evidence that Coach Fitzgerald was aware of the hazing,” Schill wrote in a letter to the university’s community on Saturday.

“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,” Schill’s statement read.

Fitzgerald has said he was not aware of the alleged hazing.

A former Illinois inspector general began conducting an independent investigation in December after an anonymous email address sent a complaint at the end of the 2022 season, according to an executive summary of the investigation made public by the university.

A former player said the alleged hazing incidents within the Wildcats program were “egregious and vile and inhumane behavior,” according to an article published Saturday by Northwestern’s student newspaper, The Daily Northwestern.

“It’s just a really abrasive and barbaric culture that has permeated throughout the program for years on end now,” the former player told the student publication.

A second anonymous player confirmed the practices to the newspaper.

“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 and our priority to ensure all students — undergraduate and graduate — can thrive during their time at Northwestern,” Schill said in his statement.

“Clearly, he failed to uphold that commitment, and I failed to sufficiently consider that failure in levying a sanction,” he said.

Schill added he recently learned the identity of the person that reported the allegations. The president said he spoke to the individual’s family offering his “sincere apologies” and has tried to reach out to the individual.

The Northwestern football team pushed back on the hazing allegations in a letter to the Northwestern community on Saturday, stating it doesn’t “tolerate hazing in any form” and that the allegations are “exaggerated and twisted into lies.”

The football team also said that Fitzgerald was unaware and not involved in the alleged incidents.

On Friday, Fitzgerald said he was “disappointed” to learn of the hazing allegations, adding he was not “aware” of any of the alleged activities.

“Northwestern football prides itself on producing not just athletes, but fine young men with character befitting the program and our University,” Fitzgerald said in a statement. “We hold our student-athletes and our program to the highest standards; we will continue to work to exceed those standards moving forward.”

Schill said he will meet with the leadership of the university as well as the Board of Trustees to discuss “future steps.”

In 17 seasons at the helm, 48-year-old Fitzgerald has a 110-101 regular season record and is 5-5 in bowl games. Since 2016, Northwestern has won four bowl games but was 1-11 last season.

The Wildcats are set to open the 2023 season at Rutgers University in New Jersey on September 3.

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