Engler: Latest ESPN report on MSU ‘weak,’ ‘incomplete’

Matt Charboneau
The Detroit News

East Lansing — Michigan State interim president John Engler continued his criticism of ESPN, calling the most recent report about a member of the men’s basketball team being investigated “weak” and “incomplete.”

Engler addressed the media Friday after MSU’s Board of Trustees meeting and was asked about an ESPN report published late Thursday night that named a current men’s basketball player and said he is being investigated by university police.

The News confirmed with a source close to the investigation that the Ingham County Prosecutor’s office is currently reviewing a case involving an MSU men’s basketball player. ESPN identified the player in its report, citing anonymous sources.

“That’s a weak report that ESPN has reported on, but I think unfortunately like their other reporting it’s incomplete,” Engler said. “One of the difficulties is a reporter can take something that was leaked, put their spin on it, and run with it. It’s sensationalistic, and then I’m barred from saying what I might know. I think we should probably, as the Michigan State community, apologize to this young man and his family who’s demeaned without, at least in that report, any evidence of any wrongdoing.

“There was a report of allegations, but let’s say at the end of the day there’s nothing there. A lot of people now read this and say, well, what went on with you? His name should not have been public because of the primacy of any investigation that might still be going on.”

It’s the latest report from ESPN that has drawn the ire of those at Michigan State; an “Outside the Lines” report that was first published on Jan. 26 attempted to portray Michigan State as having a culture of not properly handling sexual assault cases.

It was released just days after former doctor Larry Nassar was sentenced to up to 125 years in prison for assaulting young women, some Michigan State students, and tied in past issues with the Michigan State men’s basketball and football programs and how those programs handled cases of sexual assault and violence against women.

On the evening of Jan. 26, hours after the report was released, football coach Mark Dantonio vehemently denied an accusation in the report that he handled one case on his own, calling the report “completely false.”

Basketball coach Tom Izzo has repeatedly said his program has cooperated with every investigation but has opted not to address the report specifically. After a game at Indiana on Feb. 3, Izzo said he would address it all in the near future.

“I just think it’s inappropriate for me to say anything right now,” he said then. “Our whole focus has really, cause I’m trying to keep things on the up and up, our whole focus has been the healing process for the survivors, the healing process for our university and our community and for me to coach our basketball team. So, I don’t have a date, but the day will come sometime. I promise.”

The latest report from ESPN published on Thursday says it submitted a Freedom of Information request to MSU for the police report but the school is taking a 10-day extension to respond.

After the board meeting on Friday, Engler was asked if campus police should be required to report sexual assault allegations to university officials.

“There’s different legal approaches that are imposed upon the Title IX Office and the police department,” Engler said. “It’s just getting very blurry because of, if the reporter has an agenda and you’ve got one who does, you can cherry-pick your facts to write a fanciful tale and leave an impression, when even if you read carefully nothing’s been said.”

Engler also took the chance to defend Dantonio, who had his annual contract extension approved during Friday’s meeting, calling him “one of the most powerful coaches, I think, in the country.”

Dantonio is paid $4.3 million annually on a six-year rolling contract that extends one year automatically unless the university provides written notice that it will not be extended. He signed his current contract in February of 2016.

Engler praised Dantonio’s handling of the two separate sexual assault cases in 2017 involving his players. He immediately suspended Donnie Corley, Josh King and Demetric Vance when they were accused of criminal sexual conduct and dismissed them from the team when charges were filed. He did the same with Auston Robertson when he was charged in a separate case.

“You have a textbook example for the NCAA to use. It’s exactly what you’re supposed to do,” Engler said. “That was a textbook handling of a very difficult situation.

“He did exactly what you’re supposed to do. Police were brought in, investigations conducted, in this case because the finding was adverse, players dismissed. We still have a court date ahead and maybe something’s happening there, we don’t know. But textbook. And that’s a great tribute to him because that’s the kind of man he is, that’s the integrity he has.”

Staff writer Karen Bouffard contributed