NCAA basketball coach grilled over rape allegations against former player


Tom Izzo has earned hero-like status at Michigan State University.

He led the Spartans to the 2000 Men’s Basketball Championship, and has led the team to seven Final Four appearances.

But in the wake of the still-unfolding sexual abuse scandal in East Lansing, the Hall of Fame coach is under the kind of scrutiny he’s never experienced, and it shows.

Last week, a report by ESPN’s “Outside the Lines” claimed the university sought to withhold names of athletes in campus police reports of sexual assault cases. It also claimed more than three dozen former athletes — including members of the school’s football and basketball programs — had been accused of sexual assault since 2010, but in few instances did the university take action.

Sunday night, the coach was under siege from the media again, this time following a win over Maryland.

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First, in an on-court interview, Izzo was careful with his words, saying, “I’m gonna try to figure out how to celebrate this win and still pray for the people that have gone through a lot more than I went through.”

But in the postgame news conference, ESPN’s Tisha Thompson went after the coach regarding former player and assistant coach Travis Walton, who was allowed to continue with the program despite being charged with rape by an MSU student in 2010 while he was on Izzo’s staff.

“We’ll cooperate with any investigation and always have,” Izzo responded to Thompson. “We’ve done it before, and we’ll do it moving forward. That’s about all I’m going to say on it, that we did cooperate with everything.”

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He repeated variations of that answer several times.

Thompson then asked why Walton left the program in 2010.

“He graduated,” said the coach. “To be honest with you, I don’t remember why he left. I know he went to Europe to play. As you know, I’ll still say I’ll cooperate with any investigation that’s made. I did it then, I did it before. I’m not going to answer any questions that aren’t pertaining to either basketball or things that I’m not going to talk about right now.”

Both Izzo and Michigan State football coach Mark Dantonio have vowed to remain in their positions, despite increasing pressure. Last week, athletic director Mark Hollis stepped down as allegations about the school’s handling of the sexual assault cases against athletes became public.

Izzo has been under scrutiny since his controversial statement Jan. 19 after his team’s win over Indiana. At the postgame press conference, Izzo read a statement, in which he said listening to the victim’s speak at the sentencing hearing for former MSU sports doctor Larry Nassar had been a “difficult week” for him, that he had “the utmost faith and respect” for school president Lou Anna K. Simon — who resigned last week after Nassar was sentenced to up to 175 years in prison — and that he hoped “the right person was convicted.”

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He was almost instantly attacked on social media, led by Lyn Raissman, the mother of Olympic champion Aly Raissman, who was among the sexual abuse victims of former team and Michigan State doctor Larry Nassar.

Izzo apologized for that statement, saying he “made a mistake in my choice of words but not in my choice of thought.”

The sixth-ranked Spartans host Penn State on Wednesday, but Izzo will certainly be dealing with more important issues before then.

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Mike is an 11-time Michigan Emmy Award winner who has spent nearly 30 years working in sports media.
Mike has spent nearly 30 years in all aspects of sports media, including on-air, 10 at ESPN and another 10 at Fox Sports Detroit. He now works as a TV agent, and lives with his family in West Bloomfield, MI.
Sudbury, Massachusetts
11-time Michigan Emmy winner
Emerson College
Books Written
The Longest Year: One Family's Journey Of Life, Death, And Love/If These Walls Could Talk: Detroit Tigers/If These Walls Could Talk: Detroit Lions
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