COLUMBIA, Mo. – Suspended Missouri guard Michael Dixon has left the team after two sexual assault claims by a female student and a Mizzou graduate who said he threatened to "kick her in the stomach and push her down the stairs" if she became pregnant.
School officials confirmed Dixon's intent to transfer Thursday night. He has been benched all season for No. 13 Missouri's (5-1). The senior averaged 13.5 points as Missouri's sixth man last season and was a projected starter.
Neither Dixon nor the university addressed the allegations, which didn't result in criminal charges, in the university's two-sentence announcement.
"It's been a challenging few months and while I appreciate the support of many in the Mizzou community, including my coaches and teammates, it's in the best interest of me, my family and the University of Missouri for me to finish my career elsewhere," Dixon said.
The former prep star from suburban Kansas City also was briefly suspended for violating unspecified team rules in December 2010 by former Missouri coach Mike Anderson, who is now at Arkansas. That suspension involved a woman who told The Associated Press on Thursday that she declined to press charges in part to protect her family — but also to avoid the scorn of Missouri basketball players, four of whom lived next door.
The woman, who is now 25 and a university employee, asked that her name not be used because of safety concerns. At the time of Dixon's alleged assault, she was a recent graduate who worked for the school's athletics department. She reported her concerns to campus police, who encouraged her to file charges, and complained to school officials, including Anderson and Sarah Reesman, an executive associate athletics director who is essentially second-in-command under athletic director Mike Alden
One of the players warned the woman "to keep her mouth shut," she said.
"At the time, I did what was right for me by not pressing charges," she said. "It was a very personal decision."
Over the weekend, a second female student accused Dixon of sexual assault in a Twitter exchange with former Missouri guard Kim English, now a Detroit Pistons reserve. The woman filed a Columbia police report in August, copies of which were publicly released this week, but Boone County prosecutors decided on Nov. 16 to not file charges.
The absence of criminal charges in both cases prompted a groundswell of support for Dixon's reinstatement among Missouri fans, with some Twitter posts calling for the school to "Free Mike Dixon."
English was among the most vocal supporters, defending his former teammate's "poise, class and professionalism" while also praising Missouri coach Frank Haith and chancellor Brady Deaton. But he called a university disciplinary board apparently investigating Dixon "a joke" and said his alma mater "should be ashamed!" Those criticisms were later deleted — as was the 19-year-old sophomore's online accusation that prompted English's comments.
But under the federal gender-equity law known as Title IX, the university must prevent sex-based discrimination that denies access to educational opportunity.
A recent change in interpretation of that 40-year-old law, which is more commonly known for its role in elevating women's sports on campus, has Missouri and other campuses applying that standard to specific complaints of sexual assault. That would explain why Dixon's conduct was the subject of an internal campus review even absent a criminal offense.
Dixon posted his own defense that "I've done nothing wrong!" on Twitter after an 84-61 loss to No. 2 Louisville one week ago at the Battle 4 Atlantis tournament in the Bahamas — a tournament at which he accompanied the team — but later had it removed.
Haith had consistently declined to discuss the reasons for Dixon's suspension, which he said did not involve NCAA matters or legal issues — a characterization subject to interpretation given that the case remained under review by local prosecutors until two weeks ago. Most recently, Haith said he would not talk about the "rumors and allegations" involving Dixon.
Dixon's initial accuser said she struggled with the mostly unwavering support he received while suspended.
"It's really difficult for me to see someone praised by such a large group of people when I know how he hurt me," she said.
Alan Scher Zagier can be reached at http://www.twitter.com/azagier