This story has been updated to include statements from Michigan State, Brenda Tracy and Mel Tucker.
A Big Ten football program is yet again mired in controversy.
An investigation into the allegations against Tucker, conducted by an outside Title IX attorney hired by the university, was completed in July. According to a news conference conducted by the school on Sunday, Tucker has been suspended without pay while the "fair, thorough and unbiased investigation" is completed. The university will hold a formal hearing on the findings the week of Oct. 5, coinciding with the MSU program's bye week.
Michigan State athletic director Alan Haller confirmed in the conference that secondary coach Harlon Barnett has been tabbed acting head coach. Former Spartans coach Mark Dantonio will also return to the staff as associate head coach after coaching the school from 2007-19 and amassing a 114-57 record.
REQUIRED READING: Michigan State news conference: Mel Tucker suspended without pay
Michigan State is 2-0 this season, with a Sept. 16 home game against No. 8 Washington next on its schedule. Tucker has gone 20-14 as the Spartans' coach.
Here’s everything you need to know about why Michigan State suspended Tucker, the allegations against him and his contract status moving forward:
Why was Mel Tucker suspended?
The university suspended Tucker two games into his fourth season with the Spartans in the wake of a Title IX investigation into allegations that he sexually harassed Tracy, whom he brought to speak at Michigan State multiple times since 2021.
Haller said "new developments" regarding the investigation into Tucker led him to suspend the football coach with the "support of university leadership."
"As there have been new developments before the hearing, and with the best interest of everyone, including student-athletes and the university community in mind, I have suspended Mel Tucker without pay as an additional interim measure," Haller said. "As the investigation continues, I made this decision with the support of university leadership."
Tracy filed her complaint with Michigan State’s Title IX office in December 2022, eight months after she alleged Tucker harassed her in April. Michigan State hired Rebecca Leitman Veidlinger — an Ann Arbor, Michigan-based Title IX attorney — to lead the investigation. Veidlinger is a former Indiana sex crimes prosecutor who previously worked in Title IX offices at both Michigan State and Michigan.
The investigation began in January with interviews of Tracy and six people she identified as witnesses, including three Tucker assistants. The investigation was completed in July. A formal hearing to determine whether Tucker had violated his employer’s policy against sexual harassment and exploitation is scheduled for the week of Oct. 5, during Michigan State’s bye. The university will wait until after the investigation is complete to make Tucker’s firing official.
Said Haller in Sunday's conference:
"Upon receiving the reports from the claimant (Tracy) regarding Mel Tucker, MSU's Office of Civil Rights immediately commenced a review and subsequent investigation per university protocol using an outside third-party investigator. I was aware of the report in late December. The external investigator concluded their review and submitted their investigative report on July 25, with the recommendation for a formal hearing which will occur the week of Oct. 5."
Update, Sept. 18: Michigan State has issued a statement claiming it has notified Tucker the university intends to fire him for cause. In the statement, Haller said the notification was mandated as per Tucker's contract. From Chris Solari:
MSU tells football coach Mel Tucker it plans to fire him for cause per the university. pic.twitter.com/dOim17krgR
— Chris Solari (@chrissolari) September 18, 2023
Mel Tucker sexual harassment allegations
Tracy — a prominent activist who educates athletes about sexual violence through her nonprofit organization, Set The Expectation — had been invited by Tucker three times to Michigan State dating back to August 2021: twice to speak to Spartans players, and a third time to serve as honorary captain at the program’s annual spring game.
Per USA TODAY's report, Tracy and Tucker told investigators they immediately “hit it off,” due in some part to shared interests like Jordan-brand sneakers. Tucker had his players sign her pledge to, among other things, get “ongoing, affirmative consent” before taking part in sexual acts with another person.
But as she and Tucker developed a close working relationship, Tracy alleges the coach’s behavior soon became unprofessional and abusive. Per a complaint Tracy filed with Michigan State’s Title IX office in December 2022, Tucker made sexual comments about her and masturbated on a phone call between the two without her consent on April 28, 2022. Tucker at the time was in a Florida hotel.
After sending Tucker a photo of them together at the spring game, Tracy alleges the Spartans coach responded by commenting on her buttocks and calling himself an “a-- man.” As his voice got deeper during the call and Tracy asked Tucker what he was doing, she claimed he said he had a “hard d---” and was touching himself.
“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 is a sexual assault survivor, having been raped by four men, including two Oregon State football players, in 1998.
Tucker admitted the university that he masturbated during the call, but claims he and Tracy had consensual phone sex.
Among other allegations, Tracy said Tucker asked her around November 2021 whether she would date him if he weren’t a married football coach (Tucker has been married for more than 20 years). Tracy said she would not, because they worked together — one of several boundaries she said she tried to set with the Michigan State coach.
In other instances, Tracy accused Tucker of calling her via FaceTime while shirtless in his bed and calling her four times after the 2022 spring game. In the latter call, Tracy claims Tucker repeatedly asked her to meet him alone, without her assistant, and suggested he enter her hotel through a back door so as to go unnoticed.
Both individuals told investigators that Tucker developed a romantic interest in Tracy late in Michigan State’s 2021 season: Tracy claimed it was one-sided. Tucker claimed it was mutual.
Tracy said she initially stayed quiet about Tucker’s behavior to not risk potentially harming her career as an advocate, but came to realize doing so would run counter to her mission and message of encouraging others to speak up about sexual harassment.
Mel Tucker salary contract status
Tucker earned $9.56 million in total pay during the 2021-22 athletic year, according to USA TODAY’s college football head coach salaries database.
That figure ranked him fifth among all FBS coaches, behind only Alabama’s Nick Saban, Clemson’s Dabo Swinney, Georgia’s Kirby Smart and LSU’s Brian Kelly. Three of those four coaches have won multiple national championships.
In November 2021, Tucker signed a 10-year, fully guaranteed $95 million contract extension at Michigan State that made him one of the highest-paid coaches in college football. The extension came as the Spartans were finishing off their best season in six years with an 11-2 record and Peach Bowl victory. Michigan State’s success had linked Tucker’s name to a number of high-profile coaching vacancies elsewhere, namely at LSU (which ultimately hired Kelly away from Notre Dame).
Tucker’s contract is fully guaranteed, meaning he would be owed whatever remained on his deal. The contract could be voided, though, if Tucker is convicted of a crime or engaged in “conduct which, in the University’s reasonable judgment, would tend to bring public disrespect, contempt or ridicule on the University.”
After the breakout 2021 season, Michigan State has struggled. The Spartans began last season ranked No. 14 in the US LBM Coaches Poll, but finished a disappointing 5-7, including a 3-6 mark in Big Ten play.
Michigan State statement on Mel Tucker suspension
Michigan State interim president Teresa K. Woodruff issued the following statement during Sunday's news conference:
"In the MSU of today, when any report comes into the university, it is appropriately and rigorously reviewed. In the MSU of today, our investigative processes are fair and thorough. In the MSU of today, in all cases, we continually review interim measures to ensure appropriate actions are taken.
"So this morning's news might sound like the MSU of old. It was not. It is not, because an independent unbiased investigation is and continues to be conducted. That investigative process is not complete and had not been referred to (Haller) or the university. That process will not be complete until there is a hearing and a final decision.
"It is not the MSU of old because we maintain the confidence of the claimant and the respondent while respecting and valuing the claimant and respondents' right to share their story. It is not, because of the further action we take today.
"The action (Haller) comes with the full weight of my support. As he shared, these new developments before the formal hearing can impact the case and the community. This step to place Mel Tucker on an unpaid leave is equally necessary and appropriate for today's circumstances."
Mel Tucker statement on allegations
In a statement released Monday through his attorney, Jennifer Z. Belveal, Tucker said Tracy's allegations are "completely false" and "devoid of any semblance of fairness for any matter of this importance." Tucker added that the Oct. 5-6 hearing — which he put in quotation marks — is "so flawed that there is no other opportunity for the truth to come out."
Tucker reiterated that the April 2022 call between the two was "an entirely mutual, private event between two adults living at opposite ends of the country." He later stated that he believes there is "an ulterior motive designed to terminate my contract based on some other factor such as a desire to avoid any [Larry] Nassar taint, or my race or gender."
Tucker's full statement can be found below.
Suspended MSU football coach Mel Tucker responds to allegations by Brenda Tracy via his attorney, Jennifer Z. Belveal. pic.twitter.com/eiw0L0CujQ
— Chris Solari (@chrissolari) September 11, 2023
Update, Sept. 19: Tucker has issued a response to Michigan State's notification it intends to fire him for cause:
Here's Mel Tucker's full statement. (In two parts). pic.twitter.com/oTUtW7ICOh
— Pete Thamel (@PeteThamel) September 19, 2023
Brenda Tracy statement on Mel Tucker response
Brenda Tracy's attorney released a statement Tuesday explaining why she came forward publicly to USA TODAY.
The statement said "an outside party" disclosed Tracy's identity to local media, prompting her to come forward.
Read the full statement below:
More Mel Tucker suspension coverage
This article originally appeared on Nashville Tennessean: Mel Tucker suspended after Brenda Tracy allegations: Statements, updates