East Lansing – The National Collegiate Athletic Association has formally opened an investigation into the Michigan State athletic department, a university spokesman confirmed Tuesday night.
The NCAA sent a letter of inquiry to look into how Michigan State handled the case of Larry Nassar, the sports doctor who sexually assaulted dozens of young women and has spent the last six days hearing more than 100 victims make statements at his sentencing hearing.
“I can confirm the NCAA has sent the MSU Athletics Department a letter,” spokesman Jason Cody said in a text to The News. “I have not seen it. MSU is reviewing it for a response.”
The delivery of the letter of inquiry was first reported by the New York Times.
“The NCAA has requested information from Michigan State about any potential rules violations,” said Donald M. Remy, the association’s chief legal officer, told The Times.
According to NCAA bylaws, “It is the responsibility of each member institution to protect the health of and provide a safe environment for each of its participating student-athletes.”
Nassar’s case has drawn comparisons to that of Jerry Sandusky, the former Penn State University assistant football coach who was found guilty in 2012 of molesting boys on campus. He is serving a 30-year to 60-year sentence in prison.
Three university officials, including president Graham Spanier, were sentenced to prison for failing to report Sandusky to authorities.
The NCAA reached a consent decree with Penn State in 2012 over the scandal that resulted in the earmarking of a $60 million fine to be spent on child abuse programs, led to a temporary reduction in football scholarships and a two-year ban from playing in post-season bowl games, among other penalties.
The NCAA investigation of MSU comes five days after a Detroit News investigation found that reports of sexual misconduct by Dr. Larry Nassar reached at least 14 university representatives in the two decades before his arrest. No fewer than eight women reported his actions.
Nassar, 54, was a respected osteopathic sports doctor at MSU and USA Gymnastics who treated some of the nation’s most prominent Olympic athletes.
Former MSU women’s gymnastics coach Kathie Klages, who led the program for 27 seasons, was told in 1997 by some youth program gymnasts about sexual assaults.
Larissa Boyce was a 16-year-old high school student in Williamston when she began seeing Nassar after hurting her back in a youth gymnastics program at MSU. She says Nassar assaulted her and told another coach who advised her to talk to Klages. She is considered the first person to report Nassar.
“She said I must be misunderstanding what was going on,” said Boyce, now 37.
Boyce said she remembers what Klages said about filing a report.
“She said, ‘I can file this, but there are going to be serious consequences for you and Nassar,’” Boyce said. “I said I didn’t want to get anyone in trouble.”
Klages retired in February after victims came forward through lawsuits and declined to be interviewed by The News.
Also among those notified was MSU President Lou Anna Simon, who was informed in 2014 that a Title IX complaint and a police report had been filed against an unnamed physician, she told The News.
“I told people to play it straight up,” Simon said last week, “and I did not receive a copy of the report.”
Among the others who were aware of alleged abuse were athletic trainers, assistant coaches, a university police detective and an official who is now MSU’s assistant general counsel, according to university records and accounts of victims who spoke to The News.
He has pleaded guilty to assaulting nine girls in Ingham County but faces more than 150 civil suits that also involve MSU and others. He is already sentenced to 60 years in prison for child pornography in federal court and still faces sentencing for seven counts of criminal sexual conduct.
In a response to a request for information from Michigan Attorney General Bill Schuette, former federal prosecutor Patrick Fitzgerald, who led an internal MSU inquiry into the Nassar case, wrote: “While many in the community today wish that they had identified Nassar as a predator, we believe the evidence in this case will show that no one else at MSU knew that Nassar engaged in criminal behavior.”
MSU’s Cody has said the university responded vigorously once Nassar’s crimes came to light in 2016. He said campus police took 135 reports of criminal sexual conduct and executed a search warrant that contributed to Nassar’s convictions.
Staff Writer Kim Kozlowski contributed