AP Sports Columnist

Michigan State will play a spring football game Saturday.

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The question is: Why?

In the latest example of an athletic program botching the way it handles some very serious allegations, the Spartans set up a guessing game to go along with their meaningless football game by basically casting a cloud of suspicion over anyone who doesn’t play.

That includes three players, not yet identified, who are being investigated for sexual assault. That also includes an undisclosed number who won’t be allowed to play for violating some sort of team rules, presumably of a much-less serious variety.

When queried on the fairness of that stance, coach Mark Dantonio pulled out a card that has already been overly played in the political arena.

Blame it on the media.

“You’ll be the person lumping them in,” Dantonio told a reporter at a news conference this week. “So if you write about it, no, I don’t think it’s fair.”

Never mind that it’s the media’s job to report who’s playing and who isn’t.

Hey, coach, here’s a better idea.

Cancel the game.

That’s the only way to protect the anonymity of those who haven’t been charged with a crime and make sure those who have nothing to do with the case aren’t tarnished as well.

Of course, Dantonio wouldn’t hear of it.

“I would be careful to paint a brush over our entire program,” he warned, while surely mindful that his decision to press forward with what is essentially nothing more than a glorified scrimmage will do just that.

Dantonio talked high-handedly about the spring game being an important event in the East Lansing community, pointing specifically to a youth clinic that drew some 1,800 kids a year ago. He didn’t mention that the game is also being televised by the Big Ten Network and will undoubtedly serve as an important recruiting tool for the Spartans.

No matter what, Dantonio sent all sorts of mixed messages when he finally addressed the case for the first time this week, nearly two months after school officials first announced that three players — along with a football staff member — were suspended from all team activities while under investigation.

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Dantonio wouldn’t discuss who’s winning the quarterback job or any other depth-chart trivialities, which certainly seemed like the right stance to take given the cloud his program is under. He also explained why he’s barred the media from practices this spring and prevented any players from speaking publicly.

“I hope everybody understands that it’s not business as usual,” he said. “We’ve got to teach people how to play defense and tackle and things — we’ve got to do our day-to-day things — but to come out here and have our players be interviewed and act like there’s nothing going on, I just think it’s inappropriate, and that’s why I haven’t done it.”

In the meantime, Dantonio and the Spartans came across like just another school reacting clumsily to a very serious issue on college campuses, and one that takes on special significance at Michigan State.

After all, this is the same school that for decades employed Larry Nassar, the disgraced former team doctor for USA Gymnastics who is alleged to have molested dozens of females over his long career. Michigan State fired Nassar last fall, and he’s now in jail facing both state and federal charges as well as civil lawsuits, some of which also list the school as a defendant.

Dantonio conceded that he thought the investigation into his own players would’ve been further along at this point, but prosecutors have yet to decide if criminal charges are warranted.

“Obviously, I anticipated that this would be sort of finalized to some extent, just in terms of the investigative process, but that’s not been the case,” Dantonio said. “Probably the primary reason I’ve not met with the press prior to this is because of that fact. We wanted to respect the process in all, and everything that goes along with that.”

For some reason, that respect for the process doesn’t extend to his own players, at least the ones who may have missed curfew but, as far as we know, aren’t alleged to have done anything so heinous as sexual assault.

But the game must go on.

We have no idea why.


Paul Newberry is a sports columnist for The Associated Press. Write to him at or at . His work can be found at .


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