Seven Michigan State football players were charged Wednesday by Washtenaw County (Michigan) prosecutors for their role in two assaults of Michigan players last month in the postgame Michigan Stadium tunnel.
Six were hit with misdemeanors. Only one, sophomore safety Khary Crump, was charged with a felony for assault. He was seen on video swinging his helmet at a Michigan player.
Die-hard Spartans fans are crying about prosecutorial misconduct — the seat of Washtenaw County is Ann Arbor which, of course, is the home of the University of Michigan. Others are still blaming poor game-management protocols that allowed two Wolverines to enter the tunnel as MSU was leaving the field. Calling it Jim Harbaugh’s fault is also popular.
Other than Crump, the legal challenges should be easy to deal with. A Wednesday afternoon before Thanksgiving news dump isn’t exactly the sign of a prosecutor trying to make too big a deal of this.
For the sane supporters of Michigan State, there can only be a hope that this is officially the bottom for a nightmare of a season on and off the field. That may be wishful thinking, since MSU visits No. 11 Penn State on Saturday as an 18.5 point underdog.
If it does get worse at State College then, well, there is always next year. Or there better be, because this wasn’t — or shouldn’t be — acceptable or excusable.
The task ahead for Spartans head coach Mel Tucker is clear, right this ship … and quickly.
He has a 10-year, $95 million contract based on the belief that he could bring MSU to Big Ten and national competitiveness.
It was crafted during a dream season that saw State start 8-0 and climb to No. 3 in the polls after defeating rival Michigan for a second time in as many years. The team boasted star tailback Kenneth Walker III as a Heisman candidate and played with passion and purpose. It finished 11-2 and all over the state read signs and T-shirts declaring “Tuck’s Comin’”.
Hopes were high. Recruiting looked strong. Tucker cast a big presence and personality, chomping cigars and bringing in luxury cars for recruiting visit photoshoots. State seemed to have an identity, which is critical when surrounded by three national powers and brands — Michigan, Notre Dame and Ohio State.
Yet then it all came unglued. State has been a mess this season and the tunnel fight was just an ugly punctuation of it. Tucker suspended eight players in the aftermath and had seemingly turned a corner on the field by winning two games after the Michigan debacle and looking en route to bowl eligibility, which was at least something.
Then, last week, State blew a 31-14, mid-third quarter lead to lowly Indiana, which was on a seven-game losing streak and likely about to fire its coach. The Hoosiers won anyway, 39-31, in double overtime. That dropped MSU to 5-6 with a win over Penn State this weekend needed for bowl eligibility.
Making a bowl game at 6-6 isn’t much, but for State it would be better than the alternative. The additional practices and the chance for young players to step forward could allow for an early reboot of next season.
The program is desperate for anything positive, which is why the charges sure didn’t help.
Also not helping, Michigan and Ohio State are playing in another titanic matchup of their storied rivalry on Saturday, the biggest game in the Midwest and one that due to its hype and lore has drawn in generations of recruits eager to take part in it.
Meanwhile, Notre Dame, which currently has verbal commitments from the top two recruits in Michigan from the class of 2024, will play in its own showcase game against USC.
MSU has headlines of mass charges.
State traditionally finishes with Penn State, an effort by the Big Ten to give those programs a major matchup to counterbalance “The Game” in either Columbus or Ann Arbor. MSU’s victory a year ago in East Lansing served as a celebratory cap to the season.
That was then. Now, who knows?
It’s rarely easy to win in State College. Doing it with eight suspended players is even tougher.
Tucker is the same guy, the same coach as he was a year ago. The 50-year-old should be better than this. His program should be better than this.
Why this all went off the rails this year will take a massive dissection. With his big contract, his job is safe, but it’s likely there will be staff changes and another heavy push to the transfer portal to get things going. Saving, if not adding, to a top-heavy recruiting class is paramount.
The big contract is a blessing personally for him, but those things can also serve as a bit of an albatross too. It’s a punchline, something for rival recruiters to poke fun at.
The old Wisconsin defensive back has never been one to back down, of course, and that won’t change this week or next year either. Tuck is still comin’. It’s just that he better come right, and quickly.
Maybe Saturday at Penn State. Definitely next season, because this better be the bottom.