John U. Bacon on Michigan State football suspensions and the road ahead for Michigan
Michigan and Michigan State faced off last weekend, but what happened after that football game in Ann Arbor has gotten more attention than the game itself.
MSU has since suspended a total of eight players for their roles in the violent post-game conflicts in the tunnel at Michigan Stadium. Police and the Big Ten Conference are still investigating.
Both the Spartans and Wolverines also have road games to play tomorrow.
Michigan Radio sports commentator John U. Bacon joined Morning Edition host Doug Tribou to discuss the fallout from last week's game, and preview the games ahead.
Saturday's games: Michigan State at No. 14 Illinois - 3:30 p.m.; No. 4 Michigan at Rutgers - 7:30 p.m.
Doug Tribou: John, for those who haven’t seen the videos of what happened in the tunnel, one shows a group of Michigan State players shoving and kicking a Michigan player. Another video shows a Spartan player holding his own helmet and swinging it like a weapon at a different Michigan player, who has his helmet off. This is not just typical jawing you might see after a big game. What’s your view of the incidents?
John U. Bacon: This is unlike anything else any of us have ever seen, and it all appears to be one-sided based on the videos that we've seen so far. On the positive side, if you will, the Michigan State head coach, Mel Tucker, the athletic director, and the president, all came out with statements Sunday night, which I thought were appropriate.
I think that any reasonable fan would think that they're responding to this about as well and appropriately as you would hope. Of course, reasonable fan is not what this rivalry is based on. But that's my take.
"This is unlike anything else any of us have ever seen."John U. Bacon on the altercations in the Michigan Stadium tunnel after the football game on Oct. 29
DT: As I mentioned, investigations are still ongoing. There's also the possibility of civil lawsuits on behalf of at least one Michigan player. In a statement, the Michigan State Athletics Department says the suspensions will remain in place until the investigations are completed. What are some possible outcomes beyond suspensions? Are there any comparable situations in the past that might offer some insights into the options for the Big Ten or even the NCAA?
JUB: All great questions and largely open questions right now. Big Ten potential penalties is where this gets a little quirky, Doug. Kevin Warren, the commissioner of the Big Ten, his son plays football for Michigan State. Now, common sense would dictate that he would recuse himself from this investigation, and he has so far not done so.
The attorney retained, by the way, by one of the Michigan players is a guy named Tom Mars. He is the former general counsel of Walmart. But he's got a long history of basically tormenting the NCAA and never losing a case with them, which should get the Big Ten and Michigan State's attention.
DT: Meanwhile, on the field, the Spartans have lost five of their last six games. Saturday, they’ll have another tough one on the road against No. 14 Illinois. Kickoff is at 3:30 p.m.
Let’s turn to Michigan. The Wolverines are on the road against Rutgers in New Jersey Saturday night. Kickoff at 7:30 p.m. Rutgers is just 1-4 in Big Ten Conference play. Could off field distractions have disrupted Michigan's prep this week and maybe their performance Saturday?
JUB: One thing that all coaches simply hate are distractions, and this is a big pile of them. For them, they should just move on as fast as they can and get onto Rutgers. All three of the games before Ohio State, Michigan could potentially lose. They're all good enough opponents.
DT: John, Michigan has been ranked at No. 4 in the AP Top 25 for much of the season. Now, the College Football Playoff has begun issuing its rankings. The CFP has Michigan at No. 5. Anything notable in that discrepancy?
JUB: Yeah, a few things. One, Clemson is playing in a very weak conference, the Atlantic Coast Conference. And the only real game they've got left is this coming weekend against Notre Dame, which is a quasi-member of the ACC.
DT: I'm going to set aside that comment given that my alma mater, Syracuse, is in the ACC, but please continue. [Laughs]
JUB: [Laughing] Yes, Doug, Syracuse is a surprisingly good team this year, but they already lost to Clemson and a Notre Dame. So where was I? Oh, that's right. Talking about the Clemson Notre Dame game that still matters this weekend. I love you, Doug. And short of that, Clemson's got have a free run, so that bothers Big Ten fans.
The only reason it really matters at this point is the possibility that if both Michigan and Ohio State are undefeated when they play each other in late November, that perhaps both teams should get two of the four spots that are left in the College Football Playoff. This often happens with the SEC. It happened last year. It's never happened with the Big Ten, but this would be the year to do it. And if Clemson's ahead of Michigan, that could block that.
DT: And Tennessee, Ohio State, Georgia and Clemson are currently in that top four. John, thanks.
JUB: Doug, thank you. And go Orange.
Editor's note: Quotes in this article have been edited for length and clarity. You can listen to the full interview near the top of this page.