EAST LANSING, Mich. — Michigan State football coach Mark Dantonio said he views the sexual assault charges brought against his players this spring as a chance to “re-center” the program and reinforce what he sees as its core principles.
His boss, athletic director Mark Hollis, said he believes the troubles that have faced the Spartans football program in the past year “will be a blip” and don’t indicate an irreversible decline in the team’s culture. Hollis reaffirmed that he is confident Dantonio is capable of turning things around.
“Today is an endpoint in some respects for us, in some way,” Dantonio said Tuesday. “It’s a new beginning for some of us. We need to take advantage of that.”
Michigan State freshmen Josh King, Donnie Corley and Demetric Vance were dismissed from the program Tuesday after they were charged with sexual assault. They are accused of assaulting a woman in the bathroom of an on-campus apartment during a party in January.
Four members of the freshman class have been charged with sexual assault — Auston Robertson was also dismissed from the team following rape charges in April — and seven other Michigan State players have left the team for various reasons since the conclusion of a 3-9 season in 2016.
When asked if he thought the principles of integrity, respect and accountability that he preaches to his team have eroded during the past year, Dantonio said that at times it takes a crisis to “bring people back to point.”
Dantonio said he believed the football program was doing a good job of educating players about sexual assault and how to avoid compromising situations. He said one week before the January incident players spoke to one of the school’s Title IX employees about sexual assault.
“I’m angry,” he said. “I feel like the education was there.”
Dantonio said the program thoroughly vets prospective players before bringing them on campus. He admitted to taking “a risk” in recruiting Robertson, who previously had been arrested for inappropriately touching a female classmate when he was in high school.
Hollis said the school assigned three athletic department employees to new oversight roles that will make sure the football team’s vetting process during recruiting is efficient and effective. The university also recently parted ways with former staffer Curtis Blackwell, who led the team’s recruiting efforts since 2013.
An investigation commissioned by the school found that Blackwell violated university rules when he spoke to King, Corley and Vance about the alleged assault and did not report those conversations to his superiors. Dantonio said he didn’t have any regret about bringing Blackwell into the program, but “philosophical differences” during the last four or five months led him to the decision to not renew Blackwell’s contract when it expired in late May.
Hollis and Dantonio received a vote of “full support” from Michigan State’s board of trustees Monday after meeting with them to discuss the alleged assault and how it was handled by the football program. Hollis said that meeting didn’t include any discussion about incidents that have occurred in previous years and whether there was a larger, cultural problem within the program.
Earlier in the day, Karen Truszkowski, an attorney who represents the accuser, questioned the notion that there was no larger problem with the football team.
“These are not the only incidents. There are a whole lot more out there,” Truszkowski said. “Is there a problem? You do the math.”
Hollis said he evaluates all of Michigan State’s coaches on three general categories: academic success, athletic success and social behavior in engagement. He threw his support behind Dantonio’s ability to improve all three of those areas moving forward.
“[It] was a difficult year in all three,” Hollis said of 2016. “My expectations are that it will not continue.”