MSU alumni, fans irate over Mel Tucker scandal: Why was this secret for months?

Detroit Free Press
As if learning that Spartan football coach Mel Tucker allegedly sexually harassed a rape victim wasn't bad enough, Michigan State University alumni and fans were dealt another blow over the weekend.
MSU knew for 10 months that Tucker was under investigation for alleged sexual misconduct, they would learn, but kept it secret and let Tucker coach the first two games of the season, knowing he was facing a Title IX hearing next month for allegedly sexually harassing an advocate for sexual assault survivors who is a rape survivor herself.
For many alumni and fans still reeling from the university's handling of the Larry Nassar scandal, it was a punch to the gut.
"I was utterly disgusted with Mel Tucker, but I was also disgusted with MSU," said alumn Patrick Affholter of Petoskey, who learned about the scandal after USA TODAY revealed it in a bombshell investigation that published early Sunday and rocked Spartan nation.
MSU, however, would take hours to respond, waiting until 5 p.m. Sunday to hold a news conference and announce that Tucker was suspended without pay pending the investigation.
"They should have suspended him before the season started. To wait until now — just makes them look like they’re handling things the way they have in the past ... keeping things too secret, not being transparent, only acting when it becomes public and they get a lot of bad press," said 61-year-old Affholter. "I was extremely unhappy with that ... It's very disruptive to the football program and to the alumni community."
Tucker can be fired for immoral behavior
The 1984 MSU graduate noted that very little was revealed at the press conference, where only three questions were allowed from the media. No new information was disclosed.
"The only new development is we found out they knew about it. They knew what was going on," Affholter said.
In the hours after the report was
Published , the Tucker scandal triggered a tsunami of outrage, frustration and anger from scores of Spartan fans who took to social media to vent about the man they had put their faith in, the $9.5 million coach who signed a contract containing a "moral turpitude" clause. That clause allows MSU to fire Tucker if he engages in immoral or deviant behavior, or conduct that embarrasses the university.
What emerged Sunday was more than embarrassing for MSU.
It was heartbreak for fans as they would learn the Title IX investigation includes an accusation that he masturbated while on the phone with a woman contracted by MSU to help educate football players about sexual violence and promote responsible behavior by athletes. The woman, Brenda Tracy, is an advocate for sexual abuse survivors and a gang rape survivor herself.
"I didn’t see this one coming at all," said Jim Maggart, a 1985 MSU accounting graduate and die-hard Spartan fan who questioned the timing of Tucker's suspension.
Timeline of Brenda Tracy's Title IX complaint
According to the USA TODAY investigation, Tracy filed her complaint with MSU's Title IX office in December. Tucker was interviewed by an attorney in March and admitted to masturbating while on the phone with Tracy, but claimed it was consensual phone sex. Tracy denies that. The investigation concluded in July, with a hearing scheduled for Oct. 5 and 6 — during MSU's bye week.
Interim Michigan State University President Teresa Woodruff on Monday said she and Board of Trustees didn’t know details of the investigation until the USA TODAY report came out Sunday. She said she only learned of the accuser's identity in July, but knew Tucker was the subject of a Title IX investigation since December.
In a statement from his lawyer Monday, Tucker called the sexual harassment claims "completely false" and said the two had a "personal relationship."
"Yes, I did have a late-night intimate conversation with Ms. Tracy in April 2022," Tucker said in the statement. "While I am saddened by Ms. Tracy’s disclosure of the sensitive nature of this call, let me be perfectly clear — it was an entirely mutual, private event between two adults living at opposite ends of the country. She initiated the discussion that night, sent me a provocative picture of the two of us together, suggested what she may look like without clothes, and never once during the 36 minutes did she object in any manner, much less hang up the phone."
Fans, meanwhile, are left reeling and wondering: Why did the university let Tucker coach the first two games knowing he was accused of sexual misconduct, and had an upcoming hearing in the middle of football season? And why didn't they suspend him sooner?
"In light of the Larry Nassar thing? Are you kidding me? They didn’t learn their lesson,"said Maggart, who lives in New Jersey and follows his Spartans faithfully. He said he is "deeply disappointed" — by MSU and Tucker, who is in his fourth season after succeeding former head coach Mark Dantonio, who retired in 2019.
"This was a guy who came in after Dantonio and promised to bring integrity and discipline and a better football program, and got paid an absolute fortune — $95 million over 10 years," Maggart said. "And this is what he does to the university? And his family for that matter, and the victim?"
A coach's 'behavior really needs to be above reproach'
The news blindsided Dr. David Folkmier of Fruitport, a 1990 graduate of MSU's College of Medicine who learned of the allegation from his daughter.
"My heart just sank, I couldn’t believe it," Folkmier said. "My initial opinion of Mel Tucker was that he was a really good guy — and he might be — but to hear that was a real big disappointment ... especially with all Michigan State has been through."
Folkmier added: "When you are a person representative of the university, and you’re in the public eye as much as someone like the head football coach, your behavior really needs to be above reproach ... I don’t know the details of what happened, but it’s just really disappointing and heartbreaking."
Still, Folkmier cautions against jumping to conclusions, noting the investigation is not complete.
"I really try not to rush to judgment. I’ve liked Mel Tucker from the very beginning … I was giving him the benefit of the doubt," Folkmier said, adding that suspending Tucker "is the right way to go until the investigation is completed ... I think more will come out in the future. I'm pretty unhappy but I'm just going to wait and see until it all unfolds."
Under Title IX regulations and federal law, universities are required to "keep confidential the identity of any individual" who files a sex discrimination or sexual harassment complaint and any person accused of such conduct. There are some limitations, however.
Under one particular Title IX section and MSU policy, university officials can place any faculty member or employee on leave following a title IX complaint against them, even before the investigation and hearing process are complete.
That means Tucker could have been suspended sooner.
On social media, meanwhile, much of the public sentiment has involved outrage and judgment, with fans all over the country casting all sorts of stones at Tucker and MSU.
Some called for Tucker's immediate firing. Some accused MSU of a coverup. Many expressed pure disgust.
On Michigan State Spartan Nation, a Facebook group of 21,000 Spartan fans, the Tucker scandal has triggered talk of all sorts over the last 24 hours.
"Can I ask an honest question, why did State wait 2 games into the season to announce these allegations if the investigation has been going on since December 2022?" one group member wrote.
Another responded: "Funny he gets suspended only when it went public. Same university."
Another member tried to defend the university, posting: "Well that's how Title 9 works, so until the accused or the accuser goes public, the school cannot say anything."
A few fans defended Tucker, and stressed the presumption of innocence, though the angry mob wouldn't hear of it.
As one MSU alumn and football season ticketholder from Illinois wrote on the Michigan State Spartans Football Fan Club Facebook page:
“There just aren't words to adequately describe the amount of damage he has done to our football program and university.”
Another responded: “After Nasser, now this ??? What a complete disgrace from someone who guaranteed a positive and winning program”
For some fans, the consensual issue was fodder for debate.
As one fan wrote on the Spartan fan Facebook group:
"Man you all quick to turn on Tucker. These are only allegations let’s not jump to the conclusion that it wasn’t consensual until all evidence is heard. Either way he’s ... gone but that doesn’t make him guilty."
A woman responded: "Apparently he admitted I did the thing while on the phone."
"Yes, but said it was consensual," a woman shot back.
For many fans, however, consensual or not, Tucker crossed a line.
As one fan wrote: "... what he DID admit to was still wrong and a firing offense … I'm disappointed and heartbroken ... I supported this man more than anyone!!"
Felton Davis III: 'Wish we coulda got it right'
State Sen. Sam Singh, D-East Lansing, expressed similar sentiments as he took to the X social media platform, writing: "It is difficult being an Alum of this University. The outside investigative report was submitted in July. They couldn’t have had the hearing prior to October? Why was he allowed to coach these last two weeks? Too many questions for the Administration and the Board."
While the football players have remained silent so far, one former MSU football player couldn't hold back.
After news of the scandal broke, former Spartan wide receiver Felton Davis III, who had 100 receptions for 1,450 yards and 14 touchdowns in 38 career games through his last season in 2018, posted on his X account: "wish we coulda got it right."
For now, many fans are taking some comfort in news that Dantonio will be back as the university announced the former coach will assist the team.
For some, it's the only silver lining to this awful scandal.
As MSU alumnus Robin Hartnett of Grosse Pointe Woods said: "I'm glad that coach Dantonio is coming home to right the ship."
When MSU alumnus Sue Seibel first learned about the scandal, she got so mad she vowed to boycott going to football games.
A day later, the suburban Chicago woman admits her emotions got the best of her, and that she won't stop supporting the team.
"I feel horrible for these players," said Seibel, a 1975 MSU grad and Spartan football season ticket holder. "(Tucker) brought this woman in to tell players not to do things that he was doing. It’s embarrassing,"

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