Schools will handle allegations differently after Michigan State case

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ROSEMONT, Ill. — Michigan State coach Tom Izzo said Thursday he has handled all accusations about misbehavior in his basketball program properly and that his only regret about the past year of upheaval surrounding the school and its athletic department is that he wasn’t able to talk about the issues in more detail last winter.

Izzo spoke at length at Thursday’s Big Ten media day in Chicago about what he has learned in the aftermath of reports that the university has mishandled allegations of sexual assault and violence against women made against student-athletes, including members of the Spartans’ basketball program.

He said some of those incidents would be handled differently if they occurred today because of society’s changing views on how to deal with accusations of that nature.

“Everybody will do stuff different now,” Izzo said. “Every kid is going to be suspended now on accusations, I think. And that seems good unless it’s your kid. And if it’s your kid, you’re going to look at it differently. Now if it’s something that someone did wrong, then we’re going to deal with it in an appropriate way, which we have. That’s the only thing I’m going to stick by.”

In January, ESPN reported that former Michigan State player Travis Walton was allowed to remain a part of the program under Izzo while facing a criminal charge for allegedly punching a female MSU student at a bar in January 2010. Walton was with the team as a student assistant coach at the time. That summer, another female student accused Walton and two basketball players of sexually assaulting her in April of that year, according to a university document.

Walton has denied that he sexually assaulted anyone. He never faced sexual assault charges related to the 2010 allegation. He also denied punching the other woman; that case was dismissed in lieu of him pleading to a civil infraction for littering.

When asked specifically about whether he would handle Walton’s situation differently, Izzo said he did not know about the January bar incident.

“Would things be handled differently? I’m a little bit bothered to say yes,” Izzo said. “Every kid would be suspended for everything that happened. Some of those kids were suspended. It’s hard to suspend somebody on something you didn’t even know about. I can’t do that.”

ESPN’s January report quoted from a letter that former MSU sexual assault counselor Lauren Allswede had provided to university officials indicating that Walton and two players had been named in a sexual assault report. Izzo did not directly address those sexual assault allegations Thursday.

Izzo was questioned about the April 2010 allegation against Walton and the two players during interviews in September 2012 with U.S. Department of Education investigators, according to correspondence ESPN received from MSU earlier this year. Those interviews were part of a larger investigation that the department was conducting on MSU’s handling of sexual harassment and sexual violence, and that particular incident was not referenced in the department’s final report.

“Coach Izzo and [then-athletic director] Mark Hollis told the [Office for Civil Rights] that [they] felt they had handled the situation appropriately at the time, and [were] following the policies in place at that time,” MSU spokeswoman Emily Gerkin Guerrant wrote in an email, noting that there had been several policy changes since 2010. “But if that same scenario were to happen today, they would handle it differently.”

The woman said that she had been raped off campus in April 2010 by Walton and the two players, according to the letter. The woman did not report the incident to police but told counselors about it; her parents later told Hollis, the letter said.

The letter also indicated that several weeks later, associate athletic director Alan Haller met with the woman and her mother after he and Hollis spoke with the coaching staff, and Haller said the incident had been discussed with “the basketball team.” The letter said,”None of the players were reprimanded in any way.”

Earlier this year, ESPN submitted several questions about Allswede’s letter to Guerrant, who said the overall contents of the letter were not in dispute, and that administrators would “handle it differently” if such an allegation were made today.

Izzo said Thursday he spoke with NCAA investigators this past year about “everything,” but he did not want to rehash the details of those conversations. The NCAA closed its investigation into Michigan State’s football and basketball programs in August and told the university it found no NCAA rule violations.

Izzo said he was “insulted” by the notion he would not remove players guilty of sexual assault from his program.

“As far as accusations about what players did or not, if there would have been a time when a player was found guilty of something, I promise you he will not be on this team,” he said. “But if you want me to be a vigilante? To go out and do justice? I can’t do that.”

Izzo said he felt that he was not given “due process” in the court of public opinion or a fair chance to respond to questions about some of the allegations made against his former players. ESPN reporters made multiple requests to interview Izzo and head football coach Mark Dantonio months prior to the publication of the January story and all were denied.

When asked why those interviews weren’t granted, Izzo said, “Anytime I answered a question, I got killed.”

Izzo said he does not plan to address these allegations in detail in the future.

ESPN’s Paula Lavigne and Nicole Noren contributed to this report.



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