Michigan State University officially fires Mel Tucker for cause
- Michigan State University fired its football coach for cause, it announced Wednesday
- Tucker remains part of an ongoing MSU investigation into whether he sexually harassed a school vendor
- The university knew about the allegations since last December but allowed Tucker to coach until they became public this month
Michigan State University officially fired football coach Mel Tucker for cause Wednesday, culminating a sudden reversal of fortunes for the coach and serving as a likely preclude to a legal battle over roughly the $80 million that reportedly remains on his contract.
The university announced its decision in a news release saying it terminated Tucker’s contract for “his admitted and undisputed behaviors which have brought public disrespect, contempt and ridicule upon the university; and constitute a material breach of his agreement, and moral turpitude.”
Invocation of that “moral turpitude” clause in Tucker’s employment agreement would allow MSU to void the remainder of his contract without paying off what remains. But Tucker’s legal team has defended the coach’s conduct with a school vendor as both private and consensual and outside the bounds of their professional relationship, and thus not arising to the moral turpitude standard.
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Tucker has acknowledged masturbating on an April 2022 phone call with Brenda Tracy, a rape survivor and sexual consent advocate the team had paid $10,000 to host on campus to speak to Tucker’s players about sexual misconduct and consent.
Tucker conceded having a personal and intimate relationship with Tracy, but has described the incident as consensual phone sex. He said his relations with Tracy evolved and became more intimate after her appearance at MSU, and thus should not be linked to her work with the university. Tracy has said Tucker did not have her consent for the sexual act and that the coach’s attempts to form a romantic relationship were one-sided.
Tucker has been on suspension without pay since Sept. 10, hours after a USA Today article revealed Tracy had filed a sexual harassment complaint with the university last December.
His $95 million contract was signed in late 2021.
The university informed Tucker on Sept. 18 it intended to fire him for cause and gave him until Monday to respond to its letter.
Tucker responded Monday through his lawyers saying that he did not breach his contract, the university does not have jurisdiction to investigate Tucker’s private life and that the investigation is “terribly flawed, unfair, biased, and devoid of due process.”
Tucker’s lawyers also said the university failed to maintain confidentiality of its investigation and that MSU’s attempt to terminate Tucker before waiting for the investigation to be completed demonstrates the decision is “motivated by other reasons.”
“This is nothing more than the schools’ knee-jerk reaction to negative publicity brought on by Ms. Tracy’s release of the 1200-page investigation file to the national media,” Tucker’s lawyers wrote in their Monday letter.
His lawyers also say Tucker has a “serious medical condition” and that he requested leave under the Family Medical Leave Act days before the university announced its intentions to terminate Tucker, which the school ignored.
In its statement Wednesday, MSU said nothing presented in Tucker’s letter refuted the conduct that Tucker himself has admitted to.
“Simply put, Mr. Tucker’s response does not provide any information that refutes or undermines the multiple grounds for termination for cause set forth in the notice,” MSU Vice President and Athletic Director Alan Haller said in the statement. “Instead, his 25-page response, which includes a 12-page letter from his attorney and a 13-page ‘expert report,’ provides a litany of excuses for his inappropriate behavior while expressly admitting to the problematic conduct outlined in the notice.”
Tracy filed her complaint with MSU in December 2022. The university hired an outside lawyer to investigate the incident and the lawyer completed her report in late July.
The university kept the allegations private after both developments and allowed Tucker to continue coaching the football team through the first two games of the current season.
Earlier this month, USA Today reported details from the 1,200 page investigative report. Tracy has said she intended to keep her identity private until after the investigation was completed but an outside source leaked her identity, prompting her to consent to USA Today publishing the story ahead of the school investigation being completed.
The school has hired a law firm to investigate “alleged breaches of confidentiality by MSU officials and others “ in the ongoing investigation.
Within hours of the article appearing, MSU announced Tucker’s suspension. In the days and weeks since, the university has faced criticism both from Tucker — who accuses MSU of acting rashly — and from students, alumni and others, who say the handling of the internal probe, and the school’s decision to allow Tucker to continue coaching during the investigation, is another instance of MSU covering up allegations of sexual misconduct.
As part of the still-pending university investigation, Tucker and Tracy are expected to appear in a hearing next week. Tracy has said she will be there but it’s unclear if Tucker will participate, given his criticism of the process.
After the hearing, a resolutions officer is expected to issue a decision within 20 days on whether Tucker is “responsible” or “not responsible” for violating policy, according to an infographic the university shared outlining its processes.
After that decision, Tucker or Tracy can file an appeal within 10 days of the decision and the other party has 10 days to respond to the appeal. From there, the Equity Review Officer has 18 days to issue their decision. If no appeal is filed, the resolution officer’s decision is final.
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