EAST LANSING, Mich.—Tom Izzo has long been a friend to the media, answering any and all questions that come his way about a variety of topics. He opens his practices and allows access to the press more than just about every other major college basketball program.
But these days, his demeanor is noticeably different. And once again Wednesday, following a 76-68 comeback victory over Penn State, he wouldn’t budge in refraining to comment on the biggest story in East Lansing.
Amidst reports from ESPN’s Outside the Lines of the Michigan State athletic program’s mishandling of sexual assaults over the past decade, Izzo has faced a litany of questions surrounding those cases specifically involving some of his former players. For the third straight postgame press conference, Izzo deflected making bold statements about the reports with several investigations into the university underway.
“I’ve given my comments, I have no additional ones,” Izzo said to ESPN’s Michelle Steele when asked about the allegations. “I’ll cooperate with the investigation, as I always have with any investigation, but that’s about all I’m gonna say about it.”
Steele asked Izzo pointedly about a statement released Tuesday by former Spartan guard Travis Walton, who was linked in the Outside the Lines report to two separate incidents when he was a graduate assistant back in 2010. Walton is accused of sexually assaulting a woman just months after being accused of physically assaulting a woman at an East Lansing bar.
The other allegations regarding Izzo’s program center around a 2010 incident involving then-freshmen Keith Appling and Adreian Payne.
“When the time comes, I’ll be able to speak out. And I know it might be frustrating, but it’s just what I got to do.”
Following Sunday’s game in Maryland, an ESPN reporter confronted Izzo about the allegations, asking the first four questions of the presser and following him to the locker room, where he did not offer any more comments. The media room was also reported to be full that day, as staff had to turn away media members at the door.
“I’m sorry,” Izzo said Wednesday. “I really am, because I watch a lot of TV, and I see on shows that, you know, everybody thinks everybody has the right to (ask the question), and I’ve always believed that.
“I’ve always been a fan of the media. But I’ve got to have my rights too… When the time comes, I’ll be able to speak out. And I know it might be frustrating, but it’s just what I got to do.”
The ESPN reports came just days after the sentencing of former MSU and Team USA gymnastics doctor Larry Nassar, who pled guilty to assaulting young gymnasts under the guise of medical treatment. His sentencing captured national headlines as 156 women—including former Olympic gymnasts—read emotional impact statements in front of the prison-bound former doctor over a seven-day period.
While Izzo declined to comment on the investigations into his own program, he continued to echo that he still has “great support for the survivors” of sexual abuse, especially those affected by Nassar. He even added his team would not shy away from being part of the survivors’ healing process.
“We’re open to doing anything that helps the healing process, to be honest with you,” the 23rd-year head coach said. “You know, whatever they need, we’ll do.”
Izzo was asked several times about his reaction to the last few weeks, which have seen the departures of MSU President Lou Anna K. Simon and athletic director Mark Hollis, a longtime friend of Izzo’s.
“We don’t have to worry about my emotions,” Izzo said. “We’ve got to worry about my team’s emotions. I think my team has responded to the pressure of being No. 1, the noise, everything that’s gone on out there.”
In a hastily-called press conference before last Friday’s basketball game against Wisconsin, Izzo’s companion on the football field offered a stern denial of accusations against his program. Mark Dantonio said that “any accusations of [his]handling of any complaints of sexual assault individually are completely false.”
Meanwhile, Izzo’s reactions in the past five days have come in stark contrast to the statement read by Dantonio, prompting questions of whether Izzo—who typically never keeps to a script—is hiding anything. But Izzo is in no rush to make a statement of the like.
“I just don’t think it’s the right time, right now,” he said. “And again, I apologize, but I’m gonna just stick to that right now.”
Izzo will likely face a barrage of questions from another media sector on Saturday, as the Spartans (21-3 overall, 9-2 Big Ten) travel to Indiana for an 8:15 p.m. tipoff.