Open-records report | Grounds for dismissal in Big Ten: bringing 'public disrepute, embarrassment, contempt, scandal or ridicule' to university

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No matter what an investigation into sexual harassment allegations lodged against Mel Tucker reveals, Michigan State appears to have grounds to fire its suspended football coach without paying a hefty buyout.

Among the acts that could trigger a termination "for cause, without liability to the coach," according to Tucker's employment agreement, is his engaging in "any conduct which constitutes moral turpitude or which, in the university's reasonable judgment, would bring public disrespect, contempt or ridicule upon the university."

Michigan State has experienced all of the above since Sunday, when USA Today reported sexual harassment allegations against Tucker by Brenda Tracy, a rape survivor and advocate for victims of sexual abuse, that date back to April 2022.

Tucker, married with two children, has denied allegations of misconduct "by any definition" but said he was "not proud" for having what he described as a "mutually consensual and intimate relationship" with Tracy.

He was suspended without pay Sunday, less than 24 hours after the allegations became public. Tucker has seven-plus years remaining on a 10-year, $95 million contract that made him the Big Ten's highest-paid coach in any sport, a distinction he now shares with Ohio State football coach Ryan Day.

The language in the termination section of Tucker's employment agreement is similar to that in his Big Ten peers' contracts, a dozen of which were obtained by The News-Gazette via open records request:

Nebraska's can be let go for "engaging in conduct that impugns, harms or undercuts the reputation of the department or the university."

Rutgers' Greg Schiano can be shown the door for "conduct that publicly brings shame and disgrace to the university or is otherwise materially detrimental to the university's good name and reputation."

— Michigan's Jim Harbaugh can be dismissed for conduct that "substantially offends public decency or morality, as shall be determined by standards prevailing in the community."

Maryland's Mike Locksley can be ousted for "material misconduct" that is "wrongful and immoral (meaning inconsistent with the professional standards of conduct of an intercollegiate head football coach)."

— The contracts of Day, Illinois' Bret Bielema, Minnesota's P.J. Fleck and Purdue's Ryan Walters all cite conduct that brings the coach and/or the university "into public disrepute, embarrassment, contempt, scandal or ridicule."

— An act of "moral turpitude" is referenced as grounds for dismissal in the contracts of Indiana's Tom Allen, Iowa's Kirk Ferentz and Wisconsin's Luke Fickell.