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The risk of admitting Auston Robertson
Michigan State coach Mark Dantonio didn’t intend to talk about Auston Robertson at his news conference Tuesday.
His focus, he said, would be the three dismissed Michigan State football players charged with criminal sexual conduct earlier in the day: Josh King, Donnie Corley and Demetric Vance. When asked about the vetting of Robertson, a former Michigan State defensive end who was charged with criminal sexual conduct and dismissed from the program in April, he initially declined.
“Well first of all, I think that’s a long answer to a question,” Dantonio said. “Secondly, I dismissed Auston Robertson from this football team. It was done very quickly. I talked about that last time I had a statement made, so I’m going to stay with the course of this. The conversations to me today need to be centered on what’s gone on.”
But the issue was not Robertson’s dismissal; rather, it was his signing. In January 2016, Robertson faced a misdemeanor battery charge after allegations that he improperly touched a female classmate, per the Detroit Free Press. The charges were ultimately cleared from his record in March 2016 following completion of a diversion program, and he signed with Michigan State weeks later.
“There were a lot of individuals that took a look at the evidence at that time that was presented,” Michigan State athletics director Mark Hollis said, “and the decision was made to admit him to the university.”
After initially refusing to comment, Dantonio seemed to acknowledge the misdemeanor battery charge as a warning sign.
“We’ve never intentionally brought a guy in here and said, ‘Hey, that guy’s going to be a bad guy,’ ” Dantonio said. “Obviously, we took a risk, as you said earlier. We vetted the young man. Prior to that, that has never happened, as I can recollect.”
Dantonio took “a risk” — one which backfired badly — and chose to accept Robertson into the program. He weighed the reward of good play on the field versus the possibility of Robertson being a danger to the community. He deemed the former too good to pass up.
Philosophical differences with Curtis Blackwell
When asked about specifics related to investigations into the program’s handling of sexual assault allegations, Dantonio and Hollis deferred to the independent report by the Jones Day law firm released on Monday.
The report focused heavily on clearing Dantonio of any wrongdoing, while also addressing the misconduct of Curtis Blackwell, director of college advancement and performance. The Michigan State recruiting guru’s contract was not renewed on May 30 after he was suspended with pay for more than three months.
Blackwell, according to the report, “spoke with the three players allegedly involved in the January 2017 incident in order to determine what had occurred, communicated with a parent of one of those players regarding the incident, and failed to report any information he learned to OIE (Office of Institutional Equity) or MSU PD.”
His actions were deemed to be in violation of Michigan State’s Relationship Violence & Sexual Misconduct (RVSM) policy.
Dantonio, though, said the investigation did not factor into his decision not to renew Blackwell’s contract.
“I did not have information from the report in that regard,” he said. “I made the decision on that. It was basically a philosophical change. We evaluated everything. There was a change. We needed to be able to move forward and this decision was made.”
Asked whether he had any regrets about hiring Blackwell in 2013, Dantonio said he didn’t, but that “things changed this year.” More specifically, he said that in the past “four or five months,” philosophical differences between Dantonio and Blackwell emerged.
Blackwell was suspended on Feb. 14, nearly four months ago. According to the Jones Day report, he learned about the incident involving King, Corley and Vance on Jan. 16, nearly five months ago. Curiously, when asked whether the “philosophical differences” were related to the sexual assault investigation, Dantonio said no.
“This was outside of that,” he said.
Then he thanked the press, stepped down from the podium and left the room.
Will anything change in recruiting?
“I don’t look back at the things I can’t change,” Dantonio said Tuesday.
So what efforts will he take within the recruiting process to lessen the chances of similar situations in the future? Asked if there were anything he would change, Dantonio responded by saying that the process is not foolproof.
“You know, when I look back and I talk about the three players we’re talking about today — in the recruitment of them — everything was positive,” he said. “As a recruiter you come into contact with these players in a controlled environment one, three, five, if somebody lives here close maybe 15 times, but you don’t live with them. You don’t live with them.
“You also have to understand that people are going to make mistakes, too. Sometimes these mistakes are life-altering. Other times mistakes are not. But it’s very difficult to predict the future and we do our very, very best and vet the process. But as you can see across the country and across the nation, not just in sports but in jobs and everything else, the process doesn’t always work.”
Based on Tuesday’s news conference, don’t expect changes to Michigan State’s recruiting process. More significant alterations will be made in the monitoring of players once they arrive on campus, as indicated by Hollis assigning three staff members to oversight roles.