Michigan State University basketball coach Tom Izzo won’t be on the bench when the Spartans play Prairie View A & M Saturday.
University officials say Izzo will serve a one-game suspension for a secondary violation of NCAA rules tied to a summer basketball camp. MSU employed someone associated with a potential recruit during a basketball camp last June. The person was paid $475 for five days of working with middle schoolers.
Michigan State (7-3) is currently ranked No. 14 in the country.
“As you can imagine, I’m upset about the situation, but it’s an isolated, inadvertent situation,” Izzo said. “In no way, shape or form did we think in any way we did anything wrong, but by the broad letter of the law here, it could be interpreted in many different ways, and I have to accept the interpretation of the NCAA.”
Athletic director Mark Hollis said the NCAA viewed the case as a secondary violation, but the school was told to suspend Izzo for a game.
The school says the NCAA has indicated the case will be closed once the suspension is served. Still, both Izzo and Hollis sounded miffed at the severity of the sanction, which Izzo called “unprecedented” for this type of situation.
Hollis said an “individual associated with a prospect” can be anybody who has communication with a prospect because of his athletic performance. Michigan State said the person employed at the camp wasn’t accompanied by the prospect and didn’t have any contact with the prospect while coaching at the camp.
“To our knowledge, the individual in this case is not a handler or an agent, no money was funneled to him for access to the recruit, and the individual’s camp employment had no impact on the recruitment of the prospect,” Hollis said. “I believe this falls into an unintended ‘IAWP’ violation when the individual maintained contact with the prospect for personal reasons and then was employed as a camp counselor at our camp. The prospect and the high school coach never viewed the individual as their guy or as MSU’s guy.”
The school didn’t identify the prospect. When asked what the program could have done to avoid this violation, Hollis said: “Not have summer camps.”
The school said the individual in question was paid the same amount as other camp counselors.
“I don’t think that’s the intent of the rule,” Izzo said. “The intent of the rule, from what I understood it, was to make sure we’re not paying exorbitant amounts of money to people who are bringing prospective student-athletes here. It’s my total fault for not understanding every bit of the rule.”
An NCAA spokesman didn’t immediately respond to an e-mail seeking comment.
The Spartans will be led by associate head coach Mark Montgomery in their game Saturday night. After that, Izzo’s suspension will be over, although Hollis said he’s worried the penalty will receive more attention than the underlying offense in this case.
“The institutional and NCAA enforcement staff concur that this was a secondary violation. We’ve had many of those before,” Hollis said. “The penalty proscribed by the enforcement staff, however, is not a typical secondary violation penalty. In fact, it’s not a typical penalty at all, as we believe it’s the first of its kind.
“It creates a significant risk of confusing the public and the coaching community, which may well interpret the application of this new NCAA-proposed coaching suspension as an indication of intentional or meaningful misconduct by the coaching staff. That conclusion should simply not be made in this case.”