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Michigan State football coach Mark Dantonio met with the media for the first time since national signing day (Feb. 1) to acknowledge the seriousness of allegations of sexual assault against three players on the Spartans football team.

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East Lansing – Mark Dantonio broke his silence on Tuesday, and with Michigan State’s spring game coming up on Saturday, breaking down the game was well down the list of talking points for the Spartans coach.

With his football program operating under a cloud of silence for the past six weeks as three players are at the center of a sexual assault investigation, Dantonio wanted to make it clear during a news conference at Spartan Stadium that his program is hardly having a customary spring.

“I hope everybody understands how serious we are taking this, relative to our football program and what we’re trying to do,” Dantonio said. “I hope everybody understands that it is not business as usual, that everything we have done … now we’ve got to teach people about playing defensive tackle and we’ve got to do our day-to-day things, but to come out here and have players be interviewed and act like there’s nothing going on, I just think it’s inappropriate and that’s why I haven’t done it.”

Not only have players not spoken, but Dantonio last addressed the media on Feb. 1 – National Signing Day. It was eight days later – on Feb. 9 – the university announced its police department was investigating three football players and their role in an alleged sexual assault, an incident that also triggered a Title IX investigation and an independent investigation into the football staff’s handling of that incident.

On Feb. 28, Dantonio issued a statement regarding the incident, but Tuesday’s news conference was his first time facing questions, ones he wanted to focus solely on what he could say regarding the incident and not on football.

“I think to stand up here and talk about who is going to be our quarterback right now is trivial compared to what we’re dealing with,” Dantonio said. “That’s why I did not want to do that. I did not want to come up here and talk about spring practice or talk about depth charts or those types of things because I thought it was unfair to the investigation as a whole, so we refrained from doing that.”

The three players have not been identified because no formal charges have been announced. They have been suspended and removed from campus housing, a move Dantonio said on Tuesday was agreed upon by both him and the university administration.

The investigation has also resulted in the suspension of staff member Curtis Blackwell, the director of college advancement and performance.

Dantonio said on Tuesday he could not comment on any specific individuals involved – players or staff – but did add there are other players dealing with suspensions not related to the investigation. However, he didn’t want to mention them in an effort to keep the public from pointing at others.

“I don’t think that would be fair to do that right now just based on the situation,” Dantonio said. “Because I think in doing that, I’m pointing a compass toward other individuals. I’m not going there with that. So we’re not going to talk about that.

“Some having been suspended for other reasons is very true. So I would be careful to paint a brush over our entire program.”

The investigation is currently in the hands of Ingham County Prosecutor Carol Siemon, who announced on March 14 that her office had received all requested evidence in the case. However, there has been no timetable given on when a decision on charges might be made.

“The Prosecutor’s Office will provide notice upon further developments in their review,” a statement read.

In the meantime, spring practice has been ongoing throughout the month of March after a 3-9 season that ended without a bowl game for the first time in Dantonio’s 10 seasons.

That, along with the issues off the field, are testing the program’s resolve, but Dantonio believes they’re approaching things the right way.

“I’m doing everything I can to completely cooperate with everybody involved in this, and so, that’s my focus,” Dantonio said. “Our focus is to get our guys together, coach them on the field, get them ready to play, but not make it too public where it sends a message that this isn’t that serious. This is serious. Extremely serious.”

Following the season, Dantonio said he believed his program would rise again. On Tuesday, he was asked if he still believed that, in light of all that has taken place off the field, from the sexual assault investigation to the departure of linebacker Jon Reschke and offensive lineman Thiyo Lukusa.

“Yes, I do. I don’t think there’s any question,” Dantonio said. “I think human nature tells you that people will bind together in tough situations and they go forward more unified. There will be more clarity. There will be a re-centering. That’s always the case. I think without question.”

matt.charboneau@detroitnews.com

Twitter: @mattcharboneau

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