This editorial has been updated to remove an incorrect reference to the Secchia Center in Grand Rapids.
The Jenga blocks are falling into an ugly heap at Michigan State University, and divining the pieces reveals an insular culture that prioritizes protecting its athletic programs over assuring the safety of its students.
In the few short days since President Lou Ann Simon was forced to resign for her mishandling of the Dr. Larry Nassar molestation scandal, vaunted Athletic Director Mark Hollis also announced his retirement.
And it was reported by the Lansing State Journal that MSU hid the full report of a Title IX complaint filed by a gymnast who said she was assaulted by Nassar in 2014. The short summary made public did not indicate Nassar’s treatment was medically suspect. The full report clearly raised such serious concerns. As a result of the cover-up, Nassar was allowed to continue seeing — and abusing — girls and young women for another two years.
An army of investigators is descending on the MSU campus. Their ranks include the U.S. Department of Education, Michigan Attorney General Bill Schuette, the state House of Representatives, the NCAA and Congress. If MSU is hiding anything, it is going to be uncovered.
But in what could be the most devastating blow to Michigan State, ESPN is reporting both basketball coach Tom Izzo and football coach Mark Dantonio are considering retirement.
Think about that: Izzo is headed to what should be a strong run in the NCAA tournament with his most talented team in years. And Dantonio just came off a 9-3 Holiday Bowl-winning season.
Since Dantonio took over the program in 2007, at least 16 football players have been accused of sexual assault or violence against women. Izzo’s players have also faced such accusations.
The possibility that these deified coaches, still unverified at the time of this writing, will be lost was already sending outrage through the MSU community that, ironically, is far more intense than that which met the revelations of gymnasts being assaulted.
That’s indicative of what’s wrong at Michigan State. This is a university community that lives and dies on the success of the football and basketball programs — Beat Michigan! and all that. The fanaticism has bred a culture that quickly closes ranks when that prestige is threatened.
It’s reflective at many levels. Friday, MSU mega-donor Peter Secchia made the stunningly clueless comment that any parents who fear for their children’s safety at MSU could choose another school, and State would be just fine. You could read the resentment in his remarks as he lamented Simon’s departure.
What we are witnessing is a collapse of MSU’s world as it has existed. And that may be necessary.
Gov. Rick Snyder is said to be exploring whether he can remove the entire MSU board. That’s a board, by the way, that Friday named its own secretary as acting president.
And the impact of the now nearly 200 pending federal lawsuits filed by Nassar’s victims can’t even be calculated. MSU’s damages could easily top $1 billion.
This is what happens when universities forget, as too many do, that they are institutions with an academic mission, and not football and basketball clubs.