EAST LANSING, Mich. –
Michigan State athletic
director Mark Hollis announced his retirement Friday, the same day an explosive ESPN story detailing a number of allegations of sexual assault and violent attacks on women occurred with Spartan football and basketball players.
Hollis had been athletic director since he took over for Ron Mason on Jan. 1, 2008. He began his athletics career as a student manager for Jud Heathcote and is a 1985 MSU alum.
Hollis’ resignation also comes days after Larry Nassar, the former USA Gymnastics doctor who also was employed by Michigan State, was sentenced to 40 to 175 years in prison for sexually abusing more than
150 girls and young women, including some MSU athletes.
“Michigan State University is a great institution, and its greatest strengths are the people that call themselves Spartans. Many, if not all, of those Spartans are hurting, especially the courageous survivors of Larry Nassar’s abuse,” Hollis said Friday. “My heart breaks, my heart breaks thinking about the incomprehensible pain all of them and their families have experienced. Along with many, I was brought to tears as I listened to statements. There simply aren’t the right words to express our sympathy.
“Our campus and beyond has been attacked by evil, an individual who broke trust and so much more. As a campus community, we must do everything we can to ensure that this never happens again, and make sure that any sexual assault never occurs.”
ESPN released an in-depth investigative story about 2 hours after Hollis’ announcement, and scrutinized the way both football coach Mark Dantonio and basketball coach Tom Izzo handled allegations of sexual assault against their players.
ESPN’s report details incidents involving MSU’s football program involving 16 players since Dantonio took over in 2007. Four Spartan football players – Josh King, Donnie Corley and Demetric Vance in a January 2017 incident, and Auston Robertson in an April 2017 incident – were dismissed last year and are facing criminal sexual conduct charges.
The ESPN report overlapped a Detroit Free Press investigation that began in 2017, which uncovered four more allegations of sexual assault against MSU football players, bringing the total to six cases under Dantonio. Each of the four incidents were investigated by authorities, but no charges were filed. The Free Press investigation found 11 players were accused in the six cases on Dantonio’s watch since 2007.
The first four cases occurred when Stuart Dunnings III was the Ingham County Prosecutor. He resigned from office in July 2016 after being arrested in March that year on 15 prostitution-related charges, receiving
a 1-year sentence in November that he is currently serving in Clinton County jail.
Ingham County Prosecutor Carol Siemon issued charges for Robertson on April 21 and then charged King, Corley and Vance.
The four sexual assault allegations run countercurrent to what Dantonio said in June when he discussed the two sexual assault cases opened against four of his players.
“We’ve been here 11 years. It’s not happened previously,” Dantonio said. “This has been a little bit of a learning experience. As you all know, when you look across the country right now, there are issues. There are issues that need to be explored, and people need to continue to be educated. You do the very best that you can do in that endeavor.”
In a statement Friday, Dantonio said he’s always worked with the correct authorities in cases involving sexual assault allegations.
“I’m here tonight to say that any accusations of my handling of any complaints of sexual assault individually are completely false,” Dantonio said. “Every incident reported in that article was documented by either police or the Michigan State Title IX office. I’ve always worked with the proper authorities when dealing with the cases of sexual assault.”
Dantonio was asked about rumors that he was planning to resign. He said that is “absolutely false.”
Hollis in June said the athletic department rarely deals with sexual assault cases.
“To the best of my recollection,” he said, “there is just a few where there has been allegations.”
Asked then if his department has a policy to immediately suspend any athlete being investigated for sexual assault, Hollis said: “I think there’s a wide variety of issues that you could look at where a suspension would be in play.
“Generally, when a university becomes aware of a situation that involves a legal remedy, what you want to do is allow those student-athletes have full energy to resolve that,” Hollis said. “At the same time, you want to ensure that you continue on with the medical and
educational opportunities they have to be successful and healthy.”
ESPN also detailed two incidents that allegedly involved former MSU point guard Travis Walton that were made during his time as a student assistant coach for Izzo during the 2009-10 season, in which the Spartans went to the Final Four. Walton reportedly punched a woman in the face at a bar in one incident.
Walton, along with two members of the basketball team, also were alleged to have sexually assaulted a different woman off campus, according to ESPN. The network said no police charges were filed in that case, but reported the woman went to Hollis with the allegations that she was raped.
According to records obtained by the Free Press, Keith Appling and Adreian Payne were accused of sexually assaulting a woman during
the fall of their freshman year in 2010. Dunnings declined to press charges in the matter, citing insufficient evidence.
In 2015, the Office for Civil Rights determined MSU’s handling of some Title IX cases had created a “hostile environment” on campus for individuals who complained about relationship violence or sexual misconduct. The federal oversight agency also found that there was confusion among MSU’s athletic department staff about who should report sexual assault claims to the university’s investigation office.
In the two most recent cases, law firm Jones Day investigated and found Dantonio followed the policy and procedures for employees to report suspected sexual assaults to the university’s Office of Institutional Equity. The OIE handles Title IX investigations into cases involving relationship violence and sexual assault allegations.
Izzo has been MSU’s head basketball coach since 1995, and has been on the Spartans coaching staff since 1983, when Hollis was a student manager for Heathcote.
MSU is currently under investigation by the NCAA for how it handled the Nassar allegations, and Hollis said in a statement Wednesday that MSU would “cooperate with any investigation.”
“Since my first day on the job as athletic director, my focus has always been on the student-athlete,” Hollis said Wednesday. “They are at the core of our athletic department mission statement. Our first priority has always been and will always be their health and safety. In regards to the letter we received from the NCAA last night, the athletic compliance and university general counsel offices are preparing a comprehensive response.”