Henning: Scathing report casts volatile cloud over MSU

Lynn Henning
The Detroit News
Spartan Athletic Director Mark Hollis

When word broke Friday morning that Mark Hollis had joined Lou Anna Simon as a job casualty tied to Larry Nassar’s evil, any moments of news-bulletin shock gave way to a simple understanding.

Hollis, who for the past 10 years was Michigan State’s adroit athletic director, was destined to depart in the same fashion as Simon, which happened when MSU’s president resigned Wednesday.

This had all been assured during a week of courtroom testimony in Lansing. More than 150 women smashed a nation’s heart when they spoke about how Nassar, a supposed doctor and healer, had instead ravaged them during his 20 years “treating” athletes from Michigan State and USA Gymnastics. He violated and exploited scores and now will spend his remaining years locked in prison.

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That so many of these women were MSU students, that so many were either too frightened or too often dismissed to put Nassar out of business much earlier, and that those who knew or should have known what was happening failed to act, is why Simon no longer is president and why Hollis exited Friday. It can be assumed others, perhaps many others, will follow.

It is reasonable, also, to wonder if MSU’s tandem of coaching stars, Tom Izzo and Mark Dantonio, are themselves in danger, not because of attachments to the Nassar catastrophe, but because of what ESPN’s “Outside the Lines” reported bare hours after Hollis staggered the Spartans’ galaxy with his Friday exit.

The ESPN report was more than 6,000 words and is jarring. It does not detail crimes as vast as those committed by Nassar, but it presents a stunning timeline of sexual-assault accusations and reports to campus police during a 10-year span. The reports imply there was inattention and even cover-ups.

It is known OTL this week requested interviews with Hollis, Dantonio, Izzo, and others in advance of Friday’s bombshell. It is known only to Hollis if the OTL revelations had any effect on his Friday decision.

In-depth chronicle of incidents

The OTL story is otherwise an in-depth chronicle of incidents based on police and U.S. Department of Education Title IX reports, as well as other records and testimony.

What it raises is the specter that troubles extend beyond what had been perceived as Nassar’s evil sphere, exclusively.

And this is where matters relating to Dantonio and Izzo are ominous as one pores through the OTL report’s data.

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It was thought, credibly, in the minutes after Hollis said he was leaving, that MSU should follow a single logical plan in finding its new AD.

It should lean heavily on Dantonio and Izzo. They, after all, are MSU’s giants. The men of achievement and integrity. The coaches who had combined these past decades to make Michigan State athletics a gleaming national brand. They should most influence the hunt for a new AD.

Now, after Friday’s ESPN bomb, there will, and must, be questions.

Consider some of the disclosures.

OTL quotes Lauren Allswede, a former Michigan State sexual-assault counselor, who said she left the university in 2015 over frustrations with how MSU’s administrators — including the athletic department — handled sexual-assault incidents.

“Whatever protocol or policy was in place, whatever front-line staff might normally be involved in response or investigation, it all got kind of swept away and it was handled more by administration (and) athletic department officials,” Allswede, who worked at MSU for seven years, told “Outside the Lines.”

“It was all happening behind closed doors. ... None of it was transparent or included people who would normally be involved in certain decisions.”

Some of the incidents cited have been publicly revealed. Others have not. “Outside the Lines” says at least 16 football players have been accused of sexual assault since Dantonio became coach in 2007. In reading a brief statement just before Friday night’s basketball game, Dantonio denied he did anything improper when allegations were reported.

Again, some of these events already are known. Three football players — Donnie Corley, Joshua King, and Demetric Vance — were tossed from the team a year ago after a January incident. They yet face a range of felony charges.

Another player, Auston Robertson, was charged with rape and he, too, was dismissed.

But in its item by item account of police events, most of which bear no names due to redactions, the OTL report is potent.

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The question is: Are these incidents any more frequent at MSU than at other universities that harbor thousands of athletes over a multi-year span? Has there been any more secrecy, some of which attorneys safeguard, in East Lansing than elsewhere?

Has the investigation into Nassar’s crimes, which has yet to reveal the full depth and scope of his injury and brutality, led to an unreasonably wide net that has now, fairly or unfairly, ensnared MSU’s football and basketball teams, in this instance by an OTL report?

This is far from over

We will learn, in time, where facts and any offenses on the football-basketball landscape rank, all while the carnage from Nassar’s 20 years of destruction continues to be tallied, even before the civil suits begin raining down.

But it truly is difficult to fathom, this latest episode in MSU’s ever-volatile, ever-turbulent sports history. It is harder to comprehend at this particular time in Michigan State annals, when everything seemed to glow and to be so buoyant.

Izzo’s basketball teams have been a national treasure in the way they have competed, succeeded, and done so minus the garbage seen at some other trophy-studded campuses. Dantonio’s reconstruction of football at Spartan Stadium has been a model for other schools that hoped to meld kids and coaching into a college sports showpiece.

And perhaps that all continues, providing, to the degree possible, moments of trivial relief from the Nassar nightmares.

But this, again, is Michigan State.

It was 42 years ago Friday that an earlier disaster hit MSU athletics.

The NCAA on that cold Monday in 1976 slammed the Spartans football program with three years of probation for breaking recruiting laws and for other administrative misdeeds.

No television. No bowl games. Scholarship reductions. The sanctions were, as they were designed to be, devastating and dispiriting.

Those of us who were present then believed it would be the worst of hours and times for Michigan State and for its constellation of students, alums, and followers who just had their souls stolen.

We hadn’t anticipated a demon named Nassar.

We hadn’t imagined how much worse, many years ahead, life could turn, for a doctor’s victims, and for those who care so properly for a university that deserves to be known by something other than its sports-induced misdeeds.