On Tuesday, The New York Times reported that the NCAA formally opened an investigation into Michigan State University’s management of sexual assault allegations against Larry Nassar, a sports medicine doctor who practiced at the school and for USA Gymnastics. Nassar is facing sentencing in Michigan, and more than 160 women have spoken or had statements read on their behalf in court over the past six days.
In November, Nassar pleaded guilty to 10 counts of first-degree criminal sexual conduct in two Michigan counties. He faces a minimum sentence of 25 years. At least 186 women have said Nassar abused them, including former Olympic medalists McKayla Maroney, Aly Raisman, and Gabby Douglas. Nassar was previously sentenced to 60 years in prison after pleading guilty to federal child pornography charges in July.
The NCAA’s constitution requires member institutions “protect the health of, and provide a safe environment for, each of its participating student-athletes.” Members of the Michigan State cross-country and softball teams also said Nassar abused them, and Kathie Klages, a retired Michigan State gymnastics coach, has been accused of attempting to cover up allegations of abuse. Court documents filed last February said that in 1997, after a teenage girl told Klages that Nassar had assaulted her, Klages told her “that there is no reason to bring up Nassar’s conduct.” Klages was suspended by the university in February 2017 before retiring a day later.
The NCAA’s letter of inquiry comes one week after NCAA president Mark Emmert said he “didn’t have enough information” on the case to comment on whether the organization would open an investigation.
Nassar was reportedly permitted to see patients for 16 months during a criminal sexual assault investigation filed in 2014. The Lansing State Journal reported in December that at least a dozen women said Nassar sexually assaulted them after the university allowed him to return to work following a three-month Title IX investigation. Last Thursday, The Detroit News said that reports of Nassar’s sexual abuse reached at least 14 Michigan State representatives in the two decades before his arrest.
Earlier Tuesday, Michigan State trustee Joel Ferguson laughed off the notion of an NCAA investigation, saying, “This is not Penn State. They were dealing with their football program. ... [The NCAA is] smart enough to know they’re not competent to walk in here on this.”
Lou Anna Simon, who was appointed Michigan State’s president in 2005 and is the chairwoman of the NCAA’s executive committee, was reportedly made aware of the allegations against Nassar years before his arrest and has faced mounting criticism and calls for removal.
“I was informed that a sports medicine doctor was under investigation,” Simon said after observing a Nassar sentencing hearing last Wednesday. “I told people to play it straight up, and I did not receive a copy of the report. That’s the truth.”
Ferguson told a Michigan radio station that the board of trustees reportedly spent 10 minutes of a five-hour meeting discussing whether or not to retain Simon as president before agreeing that she would stay in the role.
“We unanimously decided in that meeting right away … we were going to support her staying as president,” Ferguson said. “There’s so many more things going on at the university than just this Nassar thing.”