Michigan State University's head football coach, Mel Tucker, finds himself in the midst of controversy and suspension following allegations of sexual harassment and misconduct brought forward by activist and rape survivor Brenda Tracy. The shocking allegations, which emerged in a USA Today report, have sent shockwaves through the university and the college football world.
University President Teresa K. Woodruff and athletic director Alan Haller announced Tucker's suspension without pay, pending the outcome of an external investigation into the allegations. These allegations have raised serious questions about Tucker's conduct and his future with the program.
Tracy, a nationally recognized advocate dedicated to ending sexual and interpersonal violence, visited MSU's campus in 2021 as a consultant. Her nonprofit advocacy organization, Set The Expectation, was founded after she came forward about her own experience as a rape survivor in 2014. She has been a tireless champion for legislation supporting victims' rights and has shared her story as a public speaker across the country.
In December, Tracy filed a complaint with MSU's Title IX Office, alleging that Tucker had made sexual comments while masturbating during a phone call with her without her consent in April 2022. The investigation into this serious complaint concluded in late July, and a hearing is now scheduled for October 5 to determine whether Tucker violated the university's sexual harassment and exploitation policy.
One aspect that has raised eyebrows is the delay in Tucker's suspension, which did not occur immediately following the completion of the investigation in July. Athletic Director Alan Haller explained that the entire process of the investigation had to be finalized before action could be taken.
In the interim, secondary coach Harlon Barnett will assume the role of the team's interim head coach, with former coach Mark Dantonio serving as associate head coach during Tucker's suspension.
Tracy's association with MSU's football program dates back to August 2021 when the university paid her $10,000 to speak at an event. The team signed Tracy's Set The Expectation Pledge, committing to ending sexual assault and interpersonal violence. However, as the relationship between Tucker and Tracy evolved, allegations of a romantic interest emerged. Tucker claimed the interest was mutual, while Tracy maintained it was one-sided.
Tucker, who is married with two children, admitted to investigators that he had masturbated during the phone call with Tracy but asserted it was consensual "phone sex." This revelation, combined with the allegations of sexual harassment, has cast a shadow over his tenure as head coach.
If the university decides to fire Tucker for cause, it could have significant financial implications. Tucker is currently in the third year of a 10-year, $95 million contract, and firing him for cause would potentially relieve the university of any further financial obligations.
Tucker's contract includes language that allows for termination if he engages in conduct deemed to be morally reprehensible or that brings public disrespect or ridicule upon the university. It also permits suspension without pay in cases of material contract breach.
As the investigation unfolds in the coming weeks, it is clear that Tucker's alleged actions have raised serious questions about his judgment, behavior, and his role as head coach. The university's decision on Tucker's future will undoubtedly have a lasting impact on the football program and its reputation.