Michigan State men's basketball head coach Tom Izzo and two assistant coaches approached a witness to discuss a criminal sexual assault investigation into one of the team's players before the witness talked to police or school investigators, according to records obtained by ESPN's Paula Lavigne and Nicole Noren.
The witness, Brayden Smith, is the son of former player Steve Smith, who starred for the Spartans from 1987-91 while Izzo was an assistant coach. In speaking with investigators, Smith characterized Izzo and his staff as "godfathers" to him, according to ESPN.
Smith was with Michigan State player Brock Washington in August 2017 on the night when Washington allegedly groped a female student, according to a police report obtained by ESPN. Washington, who has appeared in games for the Spartans in each of the past two seasons, pleaded guilty to misdemeanor assault in 2018.
Smith told police he had already spoken to Izzo and assistant coaches Dwayne Stephens and Mike Garland about the night in question by the time officers interviewed him. He told school investigators the same.
"Mr. Smith said he was sought out by Mr. Izzo and other members of the basketball coaching staff," reads the school's Title IX report, according to ESPN. "Mr. Smith said they asked him what he knew and if he was OK."
But while the school has rules regarding contact during an investigation, Michigan State's office of institutional equity "did not feel those policies were violated in this situation," a spokesperson told ESPN in an email.
Michigan State athletic director Bill Beekman issued a statement Thursday addressing the coverage surrounding the men's basketball program.
"There's nothing to support any claims that any member of the men's basketball staff conducted their own investigation, or interfered with any ongoing investigation," he said, according to The Detroit News' Matt Charboneau. "Any insinuation to the contrary is nothing more than an attempt to smear a coach, a program, and an entire university."
The conduct of Izzo and his staff drew criticism from W. Scott Lewis, co-founder of the Association of Title IX Administrators. Lewis opined that such actions might have exposed Michigan State to a lawsuit or to a complaint to the U.S. Department of Education's office for civil rights.
"You're not just being supportive of your athletes," Lewis told ESPN of the coaches' decision to talk to Smith. "If you know the police are looking into this or the Title IX office is looking at this, it becomes even more inappropriate for you to step in and do your own ad hoc Title IX investigation.
"Once you're calling in other people, it starts to reek of either you investigating this yourself or trying to intimidate a witness."