Mel Tucker’s attorney said Monday that Michigan State does not have cause to fire its suspended football coach after Tucker acknowledged having phone sex with an activist and rape survivor because he did not “engage in unprofessional or unethical behavior” or violate his contract.
Attorney Jennifer Belveal denied in a statement that Tucker’s actions were acts of moral turpitude — “by any stretch of the imagination” — at the university that operates in the shadow of Larry Nassar’s abuse of more than 100 athletes. Belveal also cited Tucker’s “serious medical condition” in stating that the embattled coach reserves his right to fully respond to the university’s planned firing when he’s medically cleared.
Michigan State informed Tucker it planned to fire him last week, potentially costing him about $80 million.
Activist and rape survivor Brenda Tracy said Tucker sexually harassed her during a phone call in April 2022. Several months later, Tracy filed a complaint with the school’s Title IX office. The investigation was completed in July.
The school told Tucker he would be fired for cause and without compensation for misconduct with Tracy, who it considers a vendor because she was once paid to speak with the team, and gave him seven days to respond.
“We sincerely hope the university will take them seriously, if not because it cares about Tucker’s rights, then because it cares about the limitless liability it will face over the private lives of its thousands of employees and faculty,” Belveal wrote.
Michigan State spokeswoman Emily Guerrant said Monday the school will review Tucker’s response.
Tucker signed a $95 million, 10-year contract in November 2021. If the school gets its way, he will lose about $80 million he was due to make through Jan. 15, 2032.
Michigan State athletic director Alan Haller has said the decision to fire Tucker does not affect the ongoing investigation into Tracy’s allegations of sexual harassment.
A hearing is scheduled for the week of Oct. 5 to determine if Tucker violated the school’s sexual harassment and exploitation policy and a ruling could take up to 60 days.
Tracy’s allegations were made public by USA Today earlier this month and on the same day that the report was published, Tucker was suspended.
“The university’s notice adopts the allegations of Brenda Tracy without any meaningful review of the facts,” Belveal wrote. “First, Tucker did not breach the agreement in any capacity, much less a material one. He did not engage in unprofessional or unethical behavior or “moral turpitude” by any stretch of the imagination.
“In fact … assault and battery does not even constitute ”moral turpitude,” and the flimsy foundation of the university’s finding — a private relationship involving mutual flirting and one instance of consensual phone sex — falls far short of the mark.”
The 51-year-old Tucker, who said he is estranged from his wife and has two children, has said the allegations against him are “completely false.” Tucker insisted that the intimate phone call he had with Tracy was consensual and outside the scope of both Title IX and school policy.
The school, however, said the actions Tucker acknowledged were unprofessional and unethical.
Michigan State told Tucker that he was fired for “breaches” in his contract and for engaging “in any conduct which constitutes moral turpitude or which, in the university’s sole judgement, would tend to bring public disrespect, contempt or ridicule upon the university.”
Tracy is known for her work with college teams educating athletes about sexual violence. Michigan State paid her $10,000 to share her story with the football team.
The Spartans (2-2, 0-1 Big Ten) have lost their last two games without Tucker at home by a combined score of 72-16 against then-No. 8 Washington and Maryland.
Michigan State plays at Iowa (3-1, 0-1) on Saturday.
Tucker began his coaching career with Nick Saban as a graduate assistant for the Spartans in 1997. He returned to the school with one of the biggest contracts in college sports after leading Colorado for one season and serving as an assistant coach at Georgia, Alabama and Ohio State.
Tucker also worked in the NFL, leading the Jacksonville Jaguars as interim coach during the 2011 season.
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