MSU won’t renew football staffer Blackwell’s contract

Matt Charboneau
The Detroit News

East Lansing – Michigan State football staff member Curtis Blackwell will not have his contract renewed, the university confirmed on Tuesday.

The director of college advancement and performance has been suspended with pay since Feb. 9 but will no longer be part of the program when his contract expires on Wednesday. His contract – set to originally expire on Wednesday – had been extended in each of the past two months, a common practice for a suspended employee.

Michigan State spokesman Jason Cody confirmed it was football coach Mark Dantonio’s decision not to retain Blackwell, who was hired in 2013.

Blackwell was suspended surrounding a sexual assault investigation involving three Michigan State football players after an on-campus incident that occurred Jan. 17.

A letter from athletic director Mark Hollis on Feb. 9 said Blackwell was suspended for “several allegations regarding your conduct.” The letter later said that because of the “seriousness of the allegations,” Blackwell was being suspended. However, what those allegations are has not been made clear by the university.

Blackwell had an excellent personnel record before the start of the sexual assault investigation. His personnel file, obtained by The Detroit News in a Freedom of Information request, includes all positive reviews until receiving the letter of suspension in February. In March 2016, Blackwell was given a raise to $129,000 a year, up from $83,435.

Blackwell has had a big impact on MSU recruiting since he was hired in 2013. He had been the co-director of the Sound Mind Sound Body (SMSB) Football Academy for nine years. SMSB operates football camps for young athletes and teaches them life skills and football.

MSU assistant athletic director for human resources Megan Vanderveen described Blackwell’s accomplishments in an email intended to provide support for Blackwell’s pay increase in 2016.

“Curtis Blackwell is responsible to develop and implement strategic plans to attract and recruit the top student-athletes to Michigan State University,” Vanderveen wrote. “He works in conjunction with the recruiting staff to organize all official and unofficial campus visits of recruits. He works to develop relationships with youth football programs throughout the state of Michigan to draw attention to Michigan State University.

“ … With Curtis on staff, we have attracted high-level recruits, which in turn supports the success of our football program. … If Curtis were to leave, he would take his recruiting strategies and recruiting relationships with him to another school. This would impact the recruiting success of the program and it would be leveraged at another Big Ten school / competitor.”

The Ingham Country Prosecutor is currently reviewing the criminal case that was investigated by the Michigan State University Police. The MSU police submitted four warrant requests to the prosecutor, three for sexual assault and one for a non-sexual crime.

The recently-completed Title IX investigation was centered on the three players, not Blackwell. There also is a continuing investigation into the football staff’s handling of the incident by the Jones Day law firm.