Michigan State Suspends Football Coach Amid Sexual Harassment Allegations

Mel Tucker, the head football coach at Michigan State University, was suspended without pay on Sunday amid an investigation into allegations of sexual misconduct, university officials said.

A report in USA Today, published early Sunday morning, detailed allegations that Mr. Tucker harassed Brenda Tracy, a prominent advocate against sexual abuse, after they teamed up to fight the culture of sexual violence in college sports. Ms. Tracy travels the country counseling college and professional athletes to stand against harassment and abuse, and made several visits to Michigan State in the past two years.

Ms. Tracy accused Mr. Tucker of making sexual comments and masturbating during a phone call with her on April 28, 2022, according to USA Today, and she filed a formal Title IX complaint with the university in December.

Alan Haller, a university vice president and director of intercollegiate athletics, said during a news conference on Sunday that the decision to abruptly suspend Mr. Tucker as head coach was “based on developments that may have a potential impact on the ongoing investigation.”

Michigan State has already played two games in the fall football season, the latest on Saturday, and Mr. Tucker coached both games.

Mr. Haller said that an investigator hired by the university finished and submitted her report on the case in July. He defended the decision to keep Mr. Tucker on as head coach until the university completed all of the steps in its formal process.

Teresa K. Woodruff, the interim president of the university, added that “the investigative process is not complete and had not been referred” to Mr. Haller or the university. She added that the “process will not be complete until there is a hearing and a final decision.”

That hearing is scheduled for Oct. 5 and 6, according to the USA Today report.

Mr. Haller said that the university had initially ordered that there be “no contact” between Mr. Tucker and Ms. Tracy, and that it had increased oversight of the football program.

The announcement on Sunday evoked painful memories of the university’s role in another sexual misconduct case.

Michigan State was heavily criticized for its handling of sexual abuse reports regarding Larry Nassar, the former physician for the American gymnastics team who was long employed by the university.

Mr. Nassar received multiple sentences in 2017 and 2018 for sex crimes involving hundreds of victims. He is expected to spend the rest of his life in prison.

“This morning’s news might sound like the M.S.U. of old,” Ms. Woodruff said at the news conference. “It was not. It was not because an independent, unbiased investigation is and continues to be conducted.”

Mr. Tucker was appointed as head coach of Michigan State’s football team, the Spartans, in 2020. He had previously served on several N.F.L. and college coaching staffs. The university signed a 10-year, $95 million contract extension with him in 2021, making him one of the highest paid coaches in college football.

Harlon Barnett will take over as acting head coach at Michigan State, Mr. Haller said.

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