Bob Wojnowski, John Niyo, Matt Charboneau, and James Hawkins talk UM, MSU basketball. Later they're joined by Oakland guard Kendrick Nunn, the second highest scorer in the nation this season. Detroit News
When questions were put to a man about Michigan State, and governance, Keith Molin’s response was rapid and comprehensive. How serious, he was asked, might be sanctions in the aftermath of Larry Nassar’s crimes?
“I can give you a definitive answer to one of those questions,” Molin said this week during a nearly two-hour interview.
“There will be no death penalty. First of all, the NCAA can only issue a death penalty if there’s a second major violation of rules and the university has already been punished for the first one. There has to be a repeat. And with respect to Michigan State, that’s out of the question, and even if it wasn’t, that’s not going to happen.”
Before detailing one man’s expertise and experience, it should be noted Molin sees no job peril for MSU’s celebrity coaches, Tom Izzo and Mark Dantonio, neither of whom are complicit in the Nassar sex abuse case. The two coaches’ handling of past sex assault cases at MSU, which were questioned by an ESPN “Outside the Lines” report, are not, in Molin’s view, likely to create serious problems for either coach or sport. Rather, a lack of transparency, overall, most of it attached to the Nassar timeline, is perhaps MSU’s failing.
Molin’s credentials and past study of university athletics are why he was asked this week to speak about MSU’s headlines. He is a former senior associate athletic director at the University of Michigan. He later worked as an associate AD at the University of Pittsburgh. He is an Upper Peninsula native and longtime Republican operative who 40 years ago was state commerce director under then-Gov. William G. Milliken.
Molin says another former governor, John Engler, who is now MSU’s interim president after the resignation of Lou Anna Simon, will need two years to wade a steam of political and legal entanglements and deal with MSU’s problematic Board of Trustees, all before a new president and AD are hired.
By that time there should be resolution to MSU’s status with investigators from the NCAA and the federal government.
“The NCAA — you have to treat the NCAA like the Keystone Kops,” Molin said of a body that announced two weeks ago it will be scanning MSU for possible violations. “They’re going to come in and get in the way, and they’ll find a manner, ultimately, to say there really are no serious violations.
“One area, of course, in which the NCAA could act would be lack of institutional control. And a second pertains to the health, welfare and safety of students. But the NCAA really is not the entity to issue those penalties.”
Molin agrees with those who say there could be a loss of federal funding when the U.S. Department of Education’s Office of Civil Rights investigates MSU for Title IX violations tied to misreporting of student complaints against Nassar. But that, Molin submits, could work to injure the very objective the OCR is supposed to uphold: equal rights, protection, and security for students.
Molin personally knows many cast members at Michigan State, including since-departed athletic director Mark Hollis. He is versed in NCAA policy and procedures from his days in Ann Arbor and at Pitt. He understands the way in which MSU’s Board of Trustees functions — or rather, too often, fails to function. He knows the state capitol. He is what might be considered a Milliken Republican, progressive and bipartisan in a way politicians tended to be in Michigan decades ago, rather than a John Engler Republican of more rigid conservatism. Molin and Engler are friends who don’t always share views on political policy.
He agrees with those who find “unsettling” MSU’s appointment of Engler, who during his years as governor was regarded as no great friend to education. He says the same word — “unsettling” — applies in the farming-out to attorney general Bill Schuette’s office an investigation into Nassar’s misdeeds and MSU’s role in Nassar’s abhorrent abuse of more than 200 women. Those acts, which victims confronted in searing fashion for a nation and a world to hear during courtroom testimony at Nassar’s sentencing hearing, have sent a doctor to prison for a lifetime.
It is suggested inside legal circles that Michigan State ultimately will pay damages to survivors that could total hundreds of millions of dollars.
“But other issues come into play,” Molin said. “There are broader consequences to consider.”
Reporting of incidents. Reporting of suspicions. Or failure to report. Or failure to act. Whatever the degree of responsibility or potential culpability, Simon and Hollis are gone. Izzo found himself two weeks ago clumsily trying to answer reporters’ questions that should have been steered away by firm “no comment” responses.
But that is quite isolated from what took place with Nassar when records say 14 people were aware of his misdeeds and failed to properly report victims’ complaints, according to a Detroit News report.
Where problems at Michigan State become further complicated, Molin acknowledged, is the historically nettlesome relationship between MSU’s trustees and MSU’s executives — and the question as to which people have been in charge.
That must change, Molin said, with a new university president, and with a new AD. It is a question, he said, of whether Michigan State’s intellectual and academic culture, which includes sports, can separate itself from a Board of Trustees long perceived as being meddlesome and political.
Michigan remains the only state whose top universities are overseen by boards popularly elected.
Engler’s mission, Molin suggested, is to change that culture even before new leaders arrive in East Lansing, and even if it seems to his critics as if Engler is the last person who should be entrusted to changing a political landscape.
A necessary question from those wedded to the Spartans’ sports fate is whether MSU is the job it was during Hollis’ heyday. Hollis was regarded as something of a creative genius who, among his talents, either helped get MSU’s prime-time coaches (Dantonio) or helped retain them (Izzo).
No program in the country was producing simultaneous football and basketball glory for as many years as MSU has enjoyed during the Dantonio-Izzo era. A college athletic department, overall, tapped into the grandeur.
Until, that is, Nassar’s horrors surfaced.
Different job now
“Before this happened, Mark Hollis’ job was perceived by the outside world as 24-carat, no question,” Molin said. “Today that job is tainted. It’s soiled.
“What doesn’t change is that Michigan State remains a 24-carat institution of higher education and is the flagship of land-grant universities. There’s some litter on the deck that must be cleaned up, but it’s a 24-carat university with a 24-carat legacy, and it will be that again once the athletic directorship is restructured and redesigned.
“But that’s going to depend on the route the president, the Board of Trustees, and the new athletic director together craft.”
Michigan State has already said, in non-surprising news, that it will be looking nationally for a new AD and that no internal candidates will be considered.
Who, precisely, the university can attract when so much commotion exists today, and when penalties or enormous settlements loom, is another question.
“My guess is, the new and permanent AD at Michigan State will be someone who today is a senior assistant somewhere who’s ready to become an AD,” Molin said. “I don’t think it can happen for two years.
“I will be surprised if it’s someone who has been an AD at Power Five (school) who would be leaving for MSU. Because it will be a different kind of AD’s job.”
There must, Molin said, be less independence for MSU’s athletic director, less independence perhaps for Dantonio and Izzo, and more attachment to that academic/administrative level, all of which should operate at MSU with greater separation from the Board of Trustees’ influence.
There is more potency to the Engler appointment than people commonly understand, Molin said. And that comes in the person of Carol Morey Viventi, a former Michigan Department of Civil Rights deputy director whom Engler appointed MSU vice president and special counsel.
“That was a great move by John, naming Carol Viventi,” Molin said. “She is really good, objective, and you may find something (constructive) in that path.”
Penn State is a two-tiered testament, Molin says, to MSU’s realities in 2018. The NCAA initially dropped a nuclear bomb on PSU because of Jerry Sandusky’s sexual abuse of boys. Heavy fines, probation, losses of scholarships — penalties rained that were destined to ravage the school for decades.
The NCAA later eased up. Some sanctions were lifted. The NCAA isn’t interested in repeating at MSU a Penn State overreach, Molin insists.
Penn State, meanwhile, got new leadership, as well as a new model for governing. The school’s football team is back. The university is flourishing.
Another land-grant university, farther to the west, deals today with a doctor’s wider crimes. Healing survivors, to the extent possible, is one obligation, with some of that redress destined to come from litigation.
Another step remains. Merging energies. Making an athletic department and a university, at-large, whole and united in ensuring there are no more Nassars, no more victims, no more courtroom words that break a wider world’s hearts.