The NCAA cleared Michigan State University of any rules infractions in the Larry Nassar sexual-assault scandal, the school announced today.
The school released a letter from Jonathan Duncan, the NCAA’s vice president for enforcement, that addressed the Nassar case, as well as an investigation into how the university has handled allegations involving football and men’s basketball players.
“This review has not substantiated violations of NCAA legislation,” Duncan wrote in his letter, which was dated Wednesday and addressed to Michigan State athletic director Bill Beekman. “Based on available information, it does not appear there is need for further inquiry.”
Beekman said the university “cooperated fully with the inquiry” and welcomes the NCAA’s conclusion.
Nassar, 55, pleaded guilty to assaulting girls and women while working as a campus sports doctor for Michigan State athletes and gymnasts in the region. Victims included U.S. Olympians who trained at Indianapolis-based USA Gymnastics. He has been sentenced to decades in prison in three separate cases involving assault and child pornography.
The NCAA sent a letter of inquiry to Michigan State in January about potential rules violations related to Nassar, but this week’s findings didn’t come as a huge surprise.
“I think this is part of the challenge the NCAA faces,” said Gabe Feldman, director of the sports law program at Tulane University. “They are not intended to be an extension of law enforcement.”
The NCAA punished Penn State football for the Jerry Sandusky child sexual-abuse scandal, but those sanctions were challenged in court and rolled back. Josephine Potuto, a law professor at the University of Nebraska and former chair of the NCAA infractions committee, said she thought the NCAA erred in its attempt to punish Penn State — and she’s not surprised the governing body went in a different direction with Michigan State.
When the NCAA cracks down on a school for, say, a recruiting violation, that infraction can lead to an unfair advantage on the field. That’s more in line with cases the NCAA often handles — even if many NCAA violations seem trivial compared with Nassar’s crimes.
“I mean, it’s horrible, and it’s a crime, clearly — he’s going to be in prison the rest of his life,” Potuto said. “But that doesn’t mean there’s an NCAA violation there.”
Michigan State has denied that anyone covered up Nassar’s crimes. But former athletes say various campus staff downplayed or disregarded their complaints about him. The university in May reached a $500 million settlement with hundreds of women and girls who said they were assaulted by Nassar.
The NCAA’s response drew a sharp rebuke today from Rachael Denhollander, who in 2016 was the first woman to publicly identify herself as a victim of Nassar.
“I’m deeply disappointed at the NCAA’s ruling,” she said in a text message. “If the NCAA legislation does not prohibit their coaches from
– threatening consequences if a victim reports abuse
– asking their NCAA athletes to sign a card for someone jailed on child sex abuse charges and
– lying to police
– and failing to report allegations of child sexual abuse
Perhaps the NCAA needs to revisit their own legislation.”
The announcement from Michigan State came the same day that former gymnastics coach Kathie Klages, a longtime Nassar ally, appeared in court on charges of lying to investigators. Authorities say two teens complained to her back in 1997.
The Nassar scandal caused a shake-up in school leadership early this year, and athletic director Mark Hollis retired . Around that same time, ESPN reported allegations of sexual assault and violence against women involving Michigan State football and basketball players. The report questioned how the athletic department handled those cases over the years.
Beekman said the NCAA’s findings provided “external validation” of how football coach Mark Dantonio and basketball coach Tom Izzo run their programs. He said the NCAA’s response to Nassar’s crimes doesn’t change the school’s duty to maintain a safe environment.
“While we agree with the NCAA that we did not commit a violation, that does not diminish our commitment to ensure the health, safety and wellness of our student athletes,” Beekman said in a statement. “That pledge permeates everything we do as part of a larger university commitment to making MSU a safer campus.”