Playing Between the Lines: Altercation in the Tunnel in Ann Arbor Following the Battle of Michigan

Michigan football coach Jim Harbaugh called the incident “traumatic” for the program and said he expects criminal charges will be filed.[3] Harbaugh stated, “[r]ight now we have an ongoing police investigation, what happened in the tunnel was egregious, [and] sickening to watch. The videos, the ones that are on social media right now and also the ABC tunnel cam is in a higher elevation that shows much more of what took place.” Harbaugh further stated an apology will not cut it, stating, “[t]here needs to be accountability, there needs to be a full, thorough, timely investigation. I can’t imagine that this will not result in criminal charges, the videos are bad. It’s clear what transpired, it seems very open and shut as they say.”

On Monday afternoon Harbaugh said Michigan State head coach Mel Tucker had not reached out since the incident. Tucker addressed the incident at the start of his weekly news conference on Monday afternoon in East Lansing. He said, “We’re not here to make any excuses for the behaviors Saturday afternoon. They are unacceptable. It’s also very important to say we honor the traditions of the Big Ten Conference, including the Michigan State-Michigan rivalry game and we have a responsibility to uphold the values of this great university. We are deeply sorry to both universities, the conferences, our fans, alumni, supporters and of course all of our student-athletes, past and present.”

On Sunday following the incident, Michigan State announced it has suspended four players indefinitely for their involvement in the altercation.[4]  On Tuesday, Michigan State announced it was suspending an additional four players, bringing the total number of players suspended as a result of the incident to eight.[5] Michigan State, issued a statement on Tuesday attributed to Athletic Director Alan Haller and Head Coach Mel Tucker that it is “transparently working with law enforcement and the Big Ten to evaluate additional facts and evidence surrounding the events in Ann Arbor.”   Further, the suspensions for these eight players will “remain in place until the investigations are completed.” Of the suspended players, two have started every game, three others have been regular game contributors off the bench for much of the year, while the other three have only been used sparingly. All of the suspended players will continue to receive academic and medical support services, but they will be barred from attending or participating in any organized team activities, including meetings, practices, and games.[6] There has not yet been any information regarding whether the suspended players with scholarships will lose their scholarships. 

Kevin Warren, the Conference Commissioner for the Big Ten, was at the game and released a statement promising “appropriate action” after an investigation.[7] The statement said: “[t]he Big Ten Conference is aware of an incident this evening at the Michigan Stadium between student-athletes from Michigan State University and the university of Michigan. The conference is currently gathering information, will thoroughly review the facts and take appropriate action.”

This is the second incident to occur in the tunnel of Michigan Stadium in the past two weeks. Penn State and Michigan players got into a heated exchange as they entered the tunnel at halftime of last weekend’s 41-17 Wolverines victory. After this second incident, it is clear that there may be some issues with how the teams go about entering the tunnel. Michigan Stadium likely will need to reevaluate its system for how to go about ensuring safe and secure entry to the locker rooms. 

Michigan defensive back Gemon Green  has retained Tom Mars of Mars Law Firm to represent him in a lawsuit against Michigan State players after he was “assaulted” in the tunnel during the incident.[8] Mars stated, “[w]hen college football players brutally attack a member of the opposing team with their helmets, resulting in the player suffering a concussion and other injuries, an apology won’t suffice. There has to be severe consequences for this kind of misconduct. Not only does Gemon Green deserve to be compensated for his injuries, severe consequences in this case will deter others who might think they can get away with brutally beating an opposing player and only get a slap on the wrist.”

The Michigan State players likely violated Rule 9 of the NCAA rules and regulations, which prohibits fighting.[9]However, the Rule only refers to penalties as suspensions or on field yardage penalties, and limits most of the discussion to fights that occur before the game, on the field, or during halftime. It remains unclear how the NCAA will handle this situation and how it will apply its rules to deliver the appropriate punishment. 

It will be interesting to see the fallout and the consequences that come from this incident. Who will be liable for this incident? Michigan Stadium? Michigan State University? The Spartan players? It appears that greater security is necessary to prevent altercations like this in the future at Michigan Stadium. Also, it will be interesting to see how Gemon Green’s lawsuit will play out. Will it result in criminal charges for the involved Spartan players, or will it simply result in a civil penalty with the requirement of damages being paid? How will the NCAA and the Big Ten handle this situation, and who will be punished in connection with the incident? Will punishment fall on the players by revoking their scholarships? As more information is released, a follow up article will be written to provide updates on this complex and evolving situation. 

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