Minneapolis — On Tuesday afternoon, Michigan State interim president John Engler criticized a recent ESPN report that questioned how the MSU basketball and football programs have handled cases of sexual assault and violence toward women.
In a letter to the Michigan State community, Engler defended basketball coach Tom Izzo and football coach Mark Dantonio, calling the report “a sensationalized package.”
On Tuesday night, after No. 2 Michigan State defeated Minnesota, 87-57, at Williams Arena, Izzo was asked about the statement from the interim president and if his support was meaningful.
“It does,” Izzo said. “I only saw a little bit of it but the part I saw I agreed with what he said. We’ll see what goes from there when I get home and get a chance to read it all and get a chance to talk to him. But it, the part I saw I agreed with.”
The bulk of Engler’s letter to Michigan State students and faculty spent time updating the ongoing investigations surrounding the Larry Nassar sexual assault scandal. Nassar is the former MSU doctor who was sentenced in recent weeks for years of assault on women and girls, some Michigan State students.
It was near the end of the letter where Engler addressed an ESPN report.
“Finally, I viewed with great concern a recent ESPN report that gathered considerable national attention in no small part because it showed a promotional graphic of our head football and men’s basketball coaches with Larry Nassar,” Engler wrote in the letter. “This was a sensationalized package of reporting that contained allegations and insinuations that we are now reviewing. The coaches were asked to refrain from comment while the reports were examined. That has been a burden that must be lifted. I hope that MSU can soon respond in full and affirm the integrity and probity that has been the hallmark of these two respected coaches.”
Izzo has refrained from commenting about any specifics in the report, something he said Tuesday was originally his decision before Engler assumed his current role.
“Yeah, there has been a little burden to it,” Izzo said. “But I’m not sure … until the investigations came, it was more my decision and he wasn’t even president then, but since that comes, I mean it’s pretty common. So, again I said before there will be a time I will talk but I thought what he said looked really good to me, as a start.”
Dantonio addressed the media the day the report was released and adamantly denied the part of the report that said he handled at least one of the cases on his own.
“I have received many questions and inquiries about today’s reports, or the latest reports,” Dantonio said before Michigan State’s basketball game against Wisconsin that night. “I’m here tonight to say that any accusations of my handling of any complaints of sexual assault individually are completely false.
“Every incident reported in that article was documented by either police or the Michigan State Title IX office. I’ve always worked with the proper authorities when dealing with cases of sexual assault. We have always had high standards in this program and that will never change. The values that we teach to everyone in this program will be enforced.”
Through 28 games, no Michigan State team has had a better record than this season’s. The victory over Minnesota gave MSU a 25-3 overall mark, surpassing the 2000-01 team that started 24-3 and before losing to Penn State in the Big Ten tournament.
“That does mean something to me because it gives this team a chance to have some identity of their own,” Izzo said. “There’s always talk about the championship teams, this team, that team. Sometimes, unless you win a championship you’re not worthy of things. We’re setting some marks in our own way and I think that is pretty cool. That is a hell of a start. I’ve had some good teams that never got close to that.”
While bigger goals remain for Michigan State — namely a Big Ten championship and a national title — surpassing the 2000-01 team still has meaning.
“That’s great,” sophomore Miles Bridges said. “It’s just another reason why I came back. It’s another milestone for our seniors.”
Forward Jordan Murphy and the Gophers had their hands full with Michigan State’s Jaren Jackson Jr. The 6-foot-11 freshman had 27 points, making five 3-pointers while also attacking the rim.
“Very talented player, he puts a lot of stress on the defense,” Murphy said. “Being able to knock down shots like that, and also when he drives up he's just going to finish over you. He definitely puts a lot of stress on defenses I think, definitely a matchup nightmare for regular forwards in the league.”