EAST LANSING — Tom Izzo made it clear he did not condone or approve of the roles Michigan State football players had in an altercation with two Michigan football players in the tunnel at Michigan Stadium.
But the Hall of Fame basketball coach emphatically disagreed with the Big Ten’s decision to hand MSU the largest fine in conference history Monday.
“Yeah, I’m completely upset about it,” Izzo said shortly after the conference issued a statement on the Oct. 29 football incident. “I think to get $100,000 fine — the suspension of a player is fine, but to get a fine like that and then the other school gets reprimanded, what the hell does ‘reprimanded’ mean?”
Almost a month after the altercation that led to charges last week for seven MSU football players, the Big Ten broke its silence on the situation. That included the $100,000 fine that surpassed the $40,000 punishment levied to U-M basketball coach Juwan Howard for hitting a Wisconsin assistant coach in February.
In its statement, the league said it concluded U-M “did not meet the standards of the Big Ten Conference Football Game Management Manual policy” by allowing Wolverines Gemon Green and Ja’Den McBurrows into Michigan Stadium’s Lloyd Carr Tunnel at the same time as the Spartans were leaving the field after a 29-7 loss.
“The policy requires the conference member institution game host to provide adequate protection for personnel of both home and visiting teams when entering and leaving playing arenas,” the Big Ten statement read.
Video from reporters and ABC showed MSU players brawling with both U-M players, though no video has surfaced of what began the altercation. Attorneys for two of the Spartans have told the Free Press the two Wolverines began the physical altercations on opposite sides of the Michigan Stadium tunnel. Another video showed a fan touching MSU football coach Mel Tucker on the head, and The Associated Press reported that person was identified and ejected.
Michigan athletic director Warde Manuel, in a statement released Monday night, said the Big Ten’s reprimand was for the fan making contact with Michigan State coach Mel Tucker’s head as the coach was entering the tunnel that night. Manuel said the person was ejected.
Manuel said the school accepts the conference’s findings, “(i)n addition, to reduce the possibility of future incidents, we proactively implemented changed ahead of our final home game by increasing security personnel in areas around the playing surface. Security and procedural review will remain a constant focal point of future event planning and reviews.”
Tucker suspended eight players in the days after the incident, and they all missed the Spartans’ final four games. Seven of the eight have been reinstated. Neither Green nor McBurrows were punished by either the conference or charged by the Washtenaw County Prosecutor’s Office.
That is among the issues for Izzo, who was on the field at Michigan Stadium before the game with his son, Steven. He expressed concern that the punishment was not shared equitably, also pointing to two previous incidents in the stadium’s tunnel — last year against Ohio State and this season against Penn State, which occurred two weeks before the MSU game and caused Nittany Lions coach James Franklin to predict a worse situation would arise if something was not done with the tunnel management.
“I am completely upset by what our players did, as Mel was. I would think that administratively, they should be upset and how the tunnel was handled and how those players ran in,” Izzo said Monday before Manuel’s statement was released. “And as I said before, what starts bad, ends bad. And so if they were reprimanded enough, they must have found something wrong. …. Well, if it was managed right, there would have been no second part. I haven’t talked to anybody here, the AD, the president. I haven’t talked to the Big Ten office. It’s none of my business. It disgusts me that it happened, so make sure don’t change your little tidbits. But it really disgusts me, too, that it wasn’t handled better on the front end, since they had a problem with Ohio State a year ago, Penn State this year. And then we get $100,000 fine and there’s a reprimand. Well, what the hell does a reprimand mean, what does it stand for?
“I’m disappointed. And again, I’m gonna keep saying it: Do not read in that I validate anything that happened. I don’t validate the two players that ran in there, I don’t validate the guy rubbing (Mel Tucker’s) head. I do not validate that grown-ups had a chance to make sure that thing was secure. Grown-ups. Kids are gonna act differently. And maybe my own administration will be mad at me for saying this. But I’m not happy with it. I just found out about it. But it doesn’t surprise me.”
Izzo also pointed to the Oct. 30, 2018, game at Spartan Stadium, after which the Big Ten fined MSU but not U-M for a pregame incident involving former Wolverines player Devin Bush during warmups.
That year, the Big Ten determined MSU violated the Big Ten Sportsmanship Policy by walking across the field with linked arms — something Mark Dantonio’s program had done for years without incident. Bush and a few other Wolverines already were on the field warming up before the Spartans arrived that day, and the conference said the MSU line of players “initiated contact with multiple members of Michigan’s team who were legitimately on the field during pregame warmups.” MSU received a $10,000 fine and Dantonio was reprimanded “for failing to take action to mitigate a foreseeable conflict from occurring.”
The league reprimanded Bush for his conduct, which included grinding his cleats repeatedly into the midfield logo and yelling at MSU players, and U-M coach Jim Harbaugh also received a reprimand for his comments made about the incident, Dantonio and the Spartans during press conferences after the game and in the following days.
A source with knowledge of the Big Ten’s current investigation told the Free Press on Monday that the 2018 punishment was issued directly by previous conference commissioner Jim Delany and did not follow the conference’s proper protocol for punishment.
Izzo said he does not believe either school should have been fined for this year’s incident, and he pointed to how that 2018 situation was handled as a sign of his belief that Monday’s punishment was unjust.
“I’ve been here a lot of years, been through a lot of things,” Izzo said. “I watched it happen to (Mark) Dantonio, when they went after our Spartan head. I got some other ones (for) the book I’m gonna write after I’m dead.
“And maybe there’s things I don’t know. I hope so. … I think it should be a lot more equal, like I thought the other one at Spartan Stadium should have been.”
“You know what, I’m a damn Michigan State guy. And I do not condone anything that our student-athletes do wrong, and there were some things that were done wrong. But I’m also held accountable to any mistake I make — or even ones I don’t make, I’m held accountable for. A reprimand? What does that mean? We do we get to do? What changes? …
“So a sore spot. And a sore spot because I love this place. I think everything should be treated equal. And I think that when adults have a chance to handle a problem that’s been a problem before and it doesn’t get handled, what starts, bad ends.”
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Izzo said he had not spoken to Big Ten commissioner Kevin Warren, MSU athletic director Alan Haller or interim university President Teresa K. Woodruff about his sentiments. He met with reporters less than two hours after the conference issued its first statement on the situation.
“Yeah, it sticks in my craw. You’re right,” he said. “Because I’m a Mel Tucker fan, I’m Mark Dantonio fan, I’m a Michigan State fan. I’m not standing back on that. I don’t care if it’s the commissioner or whatever. I do not think that was right. So my apology to my president, my AD, if that upsets them.
“This is totally Tom Izzo. But Tom Izzo has been through a lot more than my AD and my president, too. And I just, I don’t know. I should just let it go. I don’t feel like letting it go.”
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