Michigan State suspended football coach Mel Tucker without pay Sunday, less than 24 hours after allegations became public in a USA Today report that he sexually harassed activist and rape survivor Brenda Tracy during a phone call last year.
Tracy is known for her work with college teams, educating athletes about sexual violence. She has spoken to Michigan State’s football team multiple times.
University president Teresa K. Woodruff and athletic director Alan Haller announced the suspension pending the results of an outside investigation into the allegations.
The university hired a Title IX attorney to investigate Tracy’s complaint and the investigation concluded July 25. A hearing is scheduled for the week of Oct. 5 determine if Tucker violated the school’s sexual harassment and exploitation policy.
When the investigative report was finished, Tucker was told not to have contact with Tracy and that Haller would increase his oversight of him and the program, Haller said at a news conference Sunday evening. Haller said he didn’t immediately suspend Tucker in July because the entire process of the investigation was not completed.
Secondary coach Harlon Barnett will serve as the team’s interim coach and former coach Mark Dantonio was named associate head coach while Tucker awaits his fate with the program.
“I called coach Dantonio this morning and his response was, ‘Alan, whatever you need,’ ” Haller recalled.
Tucker is in the third year of a $95 million, 10-year contract and if he is fired for cause, the school would not have to pay him what's remaining on his deal.
Michigan State may fire Tucker for cause if he “engages in any conduct which constitutes moral turpitude or which, in the University's sole judgement, would tend to bring public disrespect, contempt or ridicule upon the university,” according to his contract. The school also was able to suspend Tucker, without pay, if he “materially breaches” his contract.
Messages seeking comment were left Sunday by The Associated Press with Tucker, Tracy, and Tucker’s attorney.
Tucker is the second Big Ten football coach to find himself at the center of a scandal in three months. Northwestern fired longtime coach Pat Fitzgerald in July after an investigation by the school revealed hazing in the football program.
Michigan State is not far removed from another sexual misconduct scandal, one involving former sports doctor Larry Nassar. He was sentenced in 2018 to 40 to 175 years in prison after he admitted to molesting some of the nation's top gymnasts for years under the guise of medical treatment. He was accused of sexually assaulting hundreds of women and girls.
“This morning’s news may sound like the MSU of old,” Woodruff said. “It is not.”