Michigan State University has no basis to fire head football coach Mel Tucker for cause, he and his attorney wrote Monday in a 25-page letter excoriating the university for what they called an unfair and biased investigation into sexual harassment allegations.
The letter comes a week after athletic director Alan Haller gave Tucker notice that he would fire him for cause. That notice came in response to a USA TODAY investigation that revealed the allegations by prominent rape survivor and activist Brenda Tracy, who filed a complaint against Tucker in December that remains under investigation.
"This is nothing more than the schools’ (sic) knee-jerk reaction to negative publicity brought on by Ms. Tracy’s release of the 1200-page investigation file to the national media," Jennifer Belveal, Tucker's attorney, wrote in the letter.
Belveal reiterated arguments that Tucker has made throughout the case, including that the university lacked jurisdiction to investigate his "private life." He contends he and Tracy, whom he had hired to speak to his team about sexual violence, had developed a romantic relationship, which led to them having consensual "phone sex." Tracy denies ever expressing any interest in Tucker romantically and alleges that Tucker masturbated and made sexual comments about her without her consent during an April 2022 phone call.
"By that logic, no one can ever start a relationship with anyone they met through work, even if it was just at a one-time work assignment or function!" Belveal wrote.
Michigan State spokesperson Dan Olsen said the university has received the letter and is in the process of reviewing it to determine next steps. The school had given him seven days to respond to Haller's Sept. 18 notice and outline his reasons as to why he should keep his job.
Michigan State suspended Tucker without pay on Sept. 10, hours after Tracy went public for the first time with her story in USA TODAY. Eight days later, Haller told Tucker he was firing him based on the conduct Tucker already had admitted to the university's outside investigator, including masturbating on the phone, even though Tucker claimed it was consensual.
"It is decidedly unprofessional and unethical to flirt, make sexual comments, and masturbate while on the phone with a University vendor," Haller's letter said. "The unprofessional and unethical behavior is particularly egregious given that the Vendor at issue was contracted by the University for the sole purpose of educating student-athletes on, and preventing instances of, inappropriate sexual misconduct."
Haller had also cited the public statements Tucker had made after the USA TODAY investigation, which accused the university of "ulterior motives" and conducting a "sham" process designed to fire him. Tucker's contract requires him to keep his comments about the university "positive" and "constructive."
"Nothing in the Agreement requires Tucker to stand by and watch as his reputation and career are maligned based on allegations that should not trigger coverage under" school policies, Belveal wrote.
In the letter, Belveal attached a copy of an "expert witness" report she and Tucker had previously commissioned from Brett Sokolow, who argued that the university must drop Tracy's complaint. Sokolow co-founded and serves as board chair of the Association of Title IX Administrators, a professional organization for school officials.
"Can an employee never have phone sex?" Sokolow said in his report, written in May. "Only with another non-employee or non-vendor? Can they view pornography? Have an extra-marital affair? How far does MSU intend to go in policing the private conduct of its employees, and how does it expect its 20,000+ employees to react when they find out that they no longer have private lives outside the reach of their employer?"
Tucker did not breach the agreement or engage in any unprofessional or unethical conduct "by any stretch of the imagination," Belveal wrote. The university merely accepted Tracy's allegations as fact before a hearing on the sexual harassment claims scheduled for Oct. 5 and 6, she said. Tucker, she added, is "just the fall guy for the University's negligence and malfeasance."
Last week, a USA TODAY analysis of more than 1,200 pages of case documents found Tucker repeatedly changed his story and made false and misleading statements to the investigator.
Belveal, however, repeated in the letter Monday her assertion that the school's investigation is tilted in Tracy's favor, calling it "truncated and inept."
"If the University investigated your private life or that of any other employee," Belveal wrote, "it would certainly find something 'embarrassing' to presumably justify your or their termination."
Kenny Jacoby is an investigative reporter for USA TODAY covering sexual harassment and violence and Title IX. Contact him by email at firstname.lastname@example.org or follow him on X @kennyjacoby.
This article originally appeared on USA TODAY: Mel Tucker, Michigan State football coach, claims no basis for firing