EAST LANSING, Mich. (WLNS) — Football coach Mel Tucker has been suspended without pay, Michigan State Director of Athletics Alan Haller announced in a Sunday evening press conference.
The suspension comes in the wake of sexual harassment allegations against the MSU coach.
According to CBS Sports, the university is investigating allegations that date back to a complaint filed in December 2022 by Brenda Tracy, a prominent rape survivor and activist against sexual violence.
In the complaint, Tracy alleges Tucker made sexually suggestive comments and masturbated while she “sat frozen for several minutes” during a phone call on April 28, 2022. Tracy visited MSU at least three times as an activist starting in 2021 — including one in which she was recognized as an honorary captain at a Michigan State spring football game — and built a relationship with Tucker as part of her work on campus.
Tracy also alleges numerous other inappropriate incidents.
“The idea that someone could know me and say they understand my trauma but then re-inflict that trauma on me is so disgusting to me, it’s hard for me to even wrap my mind around it,” Tracy told USA Today. “It’s like he sought me out just to betray me.”
Tracy was gang raped at the hands of four men — three college football players and a recruit — in 1998. She went public in 2014 and has since worked against sexual violence against women in college sports.
In statements provided to a Title IX investigator, Tucker acknowledged that the April 28 phone call occurred; however, he claimed it was a consensual encounter.
“Ms. Tracy’s distortion of our mutually consensual and intimate relationship into allegations of sexual exploitations has really affected me,” Tucker wrote in a letter to the investigator that was obtained by USA Today. “I am not proud of my judgment and I am having difficulty forgiving myself for getting into this situation, but I did not engage in misconduct by any definition.”
A university hearing on the matter is scheduled for Oct. 5-6, USA Today reports.
MSU vice president Emily Guerrant would not comment on the specific investigation to ESPN, but stated that any similar complaint “would be thoroughly reviewed and followed up on by MSU’s Office for Civil Rights” in a “thorough and confidential manner.”
Michigan State denied a Freedom of Information Act (FOIA) request citing a privacy exemption that allows an organization not to disclose information that is personal in nature, such as “when it is intimate, embarrassing, private, or confidential.” ESPN is preparing to file a legal appeal.
In the Sunday press conference, Haller said he has already met with the team and staff of the football program.
Harlon Barnett will take on the position of interim head coach. Currently, Barnett is the team’s secondary coach. Former head coach Mark Dantonio will also return to the program, however, his role has yet to be defined, according to Haller.
Tucker is off to a 2-0 start in his fourth year at Michigan State after beating Richmond 45-14 on Saturday night. After leading the Spartans to an 11-2 record in his second season, Tucker signed a 10-year, $95 million fully guaranteed contract with the school. Since then, the program is just 7-7 and 3-6 in Big Ten play.
There is a clause in Tucker’s contract that allows MSU to fire him for cause “if the coach is engaged in any conduct which constitutes moral turpitude” or MSU deems said conduct to have embarrassed the university.
Michigan State, meanwhile, remains in the midst of trying to rebuild its reputation after overlooking decades-long complaints against Larry Nassar, an MSU physician and former USA Gymnastics doctor accused of sexually assaulting hundreds of female athletes. Nassar was sentenced to up to 175 years in prison in verdicts reached across 2017-18.
Brenda Tracy’s Oregon connection
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.
Years ago she said she was raped by two Oregon State football players and two other men in 1998 while Mike Riley was the head coach of the Beavers.
In 2017, Portland State University, students and community members heard Tracy’s emotional story.
She travels extensively to share her worst memory to try to stop sexual violence on college campuses. In 2019, she received a national award from Politico which she said showed her impact is being noticed beyond Oregon.
“To be recognized not only for my advocacy work in general but the seven laws or so that I’ve helped pass in Oregon and the work I’ve done felt really good, really affirming,” Tracy said.
Senator Ron Wyden also read a tribute to Tracy at that time that is part of the congressional record.
Since she came forward, Tracy has been working to change Oregon laws about the statute of limitations to prosecute rape and mandatory testing of all rape kits.
Tracy’s non-profit Set the Expectation is dedicated to combating sexual violence by educating players and coaches in high school and college athletics.
The Associated Press generally doesn’t identify sexual assault victims, but Tracy has spoken publicly to draw attention to her situation.
KOIN 6 News contributed to this report.