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Michigan State says it's investigating NCAA-violation claims made by Curtis Blackwell

Tony Paul
The Detroit News

While Michigan State athletic director Bill Beekman called recent allegations of NCAA violations by the football program "patently false," the university is investigating the claims, an athletic-department spokesman confirmed Tuesday.

The claims were made earlier this month in lawsuit filed by former staffer Curtis Blackwell against then-coach Mark Dantonio and other university officials.

Mark Dantonio spent 13 seasons as Michigan State's head coach.

Dantonio stepped down an hour after The News first detailed the allegations, but said the lawsuit had "zero" to do with his decision.

"We are aware of the allegations made by Curtis Blackwell as part of his litigation," said Matt Larson, spokesman for the athletic department.

"As with any allegation concerning NCAA compliance, MSU is investigating and working with the NCAA and Big Ten. We have fully complied with our self-reporting obligations to the NCAA throughout this case."

Among the claims levied by Blackwell are that during his time on staff at MSU, he was allowed to recruit off-campus, which he wasn't authorized to do; and that Dantonio helped secure jobs for parents of high-profile recruits through a wealthy MSU donor.

Dantonio, in his deposition as part of the lawsuit, confirmed that Blackwell wasn't one of the MSU staffers authorized to recruit off-campus, and said he hadn't done so.

Dantonio, in his deposition, also said any job situations went through compliance, which approved. Jen Smith, MSU's compliance director, said in her deposition that she didn't recall approving such employment situations.

Blackwell's lawyers are facing a Tuesday deadline to respond to a show-cause order, in which they must make the argument why the case should continue, when defense attorneys say it should be dismissed because of unethical behavior by Blackwell's team.

One of the defense attorneys' claims is Blackwell's lawyers haphazardly made reference to "false, scandalous and wholly unsupported accusations" NCAA-violation claims simply to boost media coverage in their favor.

The News did not report at the time the initial claims were filed in federal court in Grand Rapids, because there were no details of the allegations. The News reported when Blackwell's team followed up with alleged details.

Part of the defense's response Tuesday is expected to include additional details and claims about possible NCAA infractions.

NCAA rules-infractions experts say there's no set punishment for MSU if the accusations are found to be true. But they do say the time for self-reporting — a process which often nets a lighter punishment — has passed, because the allegations were made public before MSU approached the NCAA.

While the violations on their own seem like possible minor infractions, experts say the NCAA could opt to group them together, which could make them a bigger deal, especially if the NCAA, in its investigation, finds additional violations.

Punishment that rises to bowl bans and lost scholarships is unlikely, however, experts say. Those are reserved for the most severe cases. More likely could  be possible probation, a fine, limits on recruiting efforts, and a possible suspension for any coach involved.

Blackwell no longer is at MSU, having bet been let go in May 2017 from his role as recruiting coordinator. Neither is Dantonio, who retired after 13 seasons. There's been no public claim yet that anyone currently on staff — new MSU coach Mel Tucker has retained two of Dantonio's coaches, Mike Tressel and Ron Burton — was involved.

Beekman, who wasn't athletic director at the time of the alleged NCAA infractions, called them "patently false" on the day of Dantonio's retirement.

"We’ll be happy to defend that in the court of law," he said.

Blackwell filed his suit in November 2018, suing Dantonio, former athletic director Mark Hollis and former president Lou Anna K. Simon for wrongful termination, and suing two MSU Police detectives for wrongful arrest.

He said he was made the scapegoat following a January 2017 party at which three players allegedly sexually assaulted a woman. He was briefly arrested and detained by MSU Police in February 2017, but never charged with a crime. He was suspended, with pay, by MSU the same day he was arrested. His contract wasn't renewed in May.

tpaul@detroitnews.com

Twitter: @tonypaul1984