OTL: Michigan State athletes were three times more likely to be named in Title IX sexual misconduct complaints

Michigan State University athletes in recent years were about three times as likely as other students to be accused of sexual misconduct or domestic violence in complaints made at the school. Education Images/UIG via Getty Images

Michigan State athletes in recent years were about three times as likely as other students at the university to be accused of sexual misconduct or domestic violence in complaints made at the school, according to records obtained by Outside the Lines.

Since fall 2012, at least 35 sexual violence and related misconduct complaints have been filed against MSU athletes. The complaints, from 2012 through academic year 2017-18, represented about 4.7 percent of the total number of Title IX complaints lodged against all students; athletes, however, make up just 1.5 percent of the school's total student enrollment.

In November, Outside the Lines published the results of an analysis of Title IX complaints at 32 Power 5 conference schools. Michigan State officials declined to provide a complete set of records for that story -- despite receiving a public records request for them in March 2018 -- but did so this month after an attorney hired by ESPN argued that a full set of records should have been released. MSU's percentage of athlete complaints was on par with Outside the Lines' overall finding that Power 5 athletes were about three times more likely than non-athlete students to be accused in Title IX complaints.

The number of complaints against athletes at Michigan State is close to the number made at Ohio State, which had 36 reports against athletes during the time period. Both totals were higher than those at fellow Big Ten schools Michigan (31), Illinois (23) and Iowa (15). Other Big Ten schools' data were limited. Among the other Power 5 conferences, no school with comparable data had more than 32 complaints against athletes. Since the Outside the Lines story in November, one other university provided updated data: The University of Washington reported that it had 12 complaints lodged against athletes from 2012 to '18, totaling 10.8 percent of all complaints.

Across the Power 5 conferences, the data showed that, on average, about 6.3 percent of Title IX complaints against students -- whether the complaint resulted in a formal investigation or not -- included an athlete as the person accused of wrongdoing, officially called a "respondent" in the reports.

"With the national #MeToo moment, I think we've seen an increase in volume of reporting across the nation," MSU spokeswoman Heather Young said in response to questions about the university's recently updated numbers. "In reality, it's a good thing that people are reporting more. Every school is going up in terms in reporting. It's a national thing. It's not just here."

The total number of complaints against all students at MSU in that time period was 748, which would not have included reports against former athletics physician and convicted sex abuser Larry Nassar or any other reports against faculty or staff.

Of the 35 complaints involving athlete respondents at MSU, investigations have been completed for all but one. In five of the completed complaints, or 14.7 percent, athletes were found to be at fault for violating the school's policies on sexual misconduct and relationship violence, according to information provided by MSU. Among completed non-athlete cases, it was about 13.5 percent. The school provided an overall total of findings of misconduct and did not reveal the results of individual complaints.

Young said that some recent reports could be the result of people who are coming forward after several years and might reference an allegation from the past, and she said those cases are difficult to investigate.

The Michigan State records show that there were 16 complaints against athletes in the 2017-18 academic year, 10 complaints in 2016-17, five in 2015-16 and fewer than two each in the prior three academic years. Each complaint involved one or more athletes. Of the complaints, 63 percent alleged sexual assault, 14 percent alleged domestic or dating violence, and the rest included reports of retaliation, sexual exploitation, sexual contact or stalking, among others.

Michigan State officials did not provide further details about the teams to which the athletes belonged. It's also unknown how many of the complaints resulted in a report to law enforcement. Because the Title IX office addresses incidents reported on and off campus, those could have been made to any number of law enforcement agencies.

Most of the 35 MSU complaints appear to have never been publicized by the media, though at least four incidents resulting in Title IX investigations after 2012 involving six athletes -- five football players and one basketball player -- were widely reported.

Last month, Outside the Lines reported that the U.S. Department of Education found that Michigan State University officials for years violated federal law by failing to comply with requirements that aim to ensure a safe campus, systemically underreported crime statistics and -- in the handling of sexual assault allegations against Nassar -- demonstrated "a lack of institutional control."

In January 2018, Outside the Lines reported on the university's lack of transparency and criticism of the school's handling of sexual violence and physical assault reports against athletes, specifically football and basketball players. At the same time, a story in The Athletic noted that the NCAA was alerted in November 2010 to about 37 reports of women being sexually assaulted by student-athletes at MSU.

About 11 months later, a former MSU Sexual Assault Program supervisor was quoted in a Title IX lawsuit filing as saying that she knew of a "multitude of female students that had been sexually assaulted by MSU athletes who had been discouraged from reporting their assaults to the OIE-Title IX office, and law enforcement."

Shari Murgittroyd, who supervised MSU Sexual Assault Program counselors from 2005 through 2015, provided the statement on behalf of a current MSU student who sued the university in April 2018, alleging that she had been raped by three basketball players and that school officials did not properly respond to her claims. MSU's Title IX investigation into the female student's claims is ongoing and, based on the date of its filing, appears to be the one athlete complaint of the 35 still pending.

MSU attorneys, in their response filed with the court denying any liability for the woman's alleged assault, stated that Murgittroyd's assertions run counter to references elsewhere in the complaint about how the school responded to reports of sexual assault in 2010 by two basketball players, who were moved to a different residence hall to be separated from the female accuser, and three football players in 2017. The football players were kicked off the team.

Last year, the NCAA -- after the Nassar scandal and media reports about assault allegations made against athletes -- investigated whether MSU broke any NCAA rules. In August, the NCAA said that it found no NCAA rules violations related to the incidents involving football and basketball players. But the alleged victims and/or their representatives told Outside the Lines that no one from the NCAA contacted them as part of the investigation and said they felt that their reports were not properly handled. At the same time, the NCAA cleared MSU of any rules violations related to the Nassar scandal.