MSU Hit with Another Potential Title IX Violation

In August 2021, Mel Tucker, the head football coach at Michigan State University, teamed up with Brenda Tracy, a rape survivor, in an attempt to raise awareness of sexual harassment in sports.[2]  Today, Tracy is accusing Tucker of sexual harassment and exploitation, the same conduct that originally brought them together.[3]

In 1990 Tracy was the victim of a gang rape by a group of Oregon State football players.[4] Now Tracy’s mission is to educate athletes about sexual violence. Through her work with Tucker as an advocate, Tracy and Tucker developed a professional working relationship.[5]

This professional working relationship quickly took a turn via a phone call on April 28, 2022. Tracy alleged that during this phone call Tucker made sexual comments to her while masturbating.  Eight months later in December 2022, Tracy filed an official complaint with Michigan State University’s Title IX office.[6]

An independent Title IX attorney hired by the university finished the investigation of Tracy’s complaint in July. A hearing will be held on October 5 and 6 to determine if Tucker violated the school’s Title IX policy banning sexual harassment and exploitation.[7]

Tucker admitted to the Title IX investigator that he did masturbate on the call, but he claimed that Tracy mischaracterized the phone call. Tucker claims that he and Tracy had consensual “phone sex” and denies the allegations.[8]

Two years ago, Tucker signed one of the highest paying contracts in the history of college sports. Today, Tucker stands to lose roughly $80 million if the university fires him for cause.[9] Hours after this investigation became public, Michigan State suspended Tucker without pay pending a resolution of the case.[10]

Title IX was passed in 1972 and states: “No person in the United States shall on the basis of sex, be excluded from participation in, be denied the benefits of, or be subject to discrimination under any educational program or activity receiving federal financial assistance.”[11] Title IX was created to prevent discriminatory practices and protect individuals against discrimination.[12]

Title IX protects female athletes by prohibiting educational programs that receive federal funding from discriminating on the basis of sex.[13] Under Title IX, discrimination on the basis of sex can include sexual harassment or sexual violence, such as rape, sexual assault, sexual battery, and sexual coercion.[14]  A university has a responsibility to respond promptly and effectively to all sexual harassment claims.  If a school knows, or reasonably should know, about sexual harassment or sexual violence, the school must take immediate action to eliminate the sexual harassment or sexual violence, prevent its recurrence, and address its effects.[15]

Despite the intent of Title IX, an abundance of literature suggests that university administrators have constructed the meaning of Title IX to defend the interests of the university over the rights of targets of harassment, rendering Title IX ineffective in fulfilling its intended function.[16]

Sexual assault and harassment are crimes, but Title IX investigations and hearings rarely exhibit the same rigor and respect for due process as criminal investigations or trials in a court of law.[17] The government has not provided clear guidelines or protocol for investigating sexual harassment allegations, and every university handles them differently. Some schools automatically believe the complainant, while others often favor the respondent.

With the uncertainty of Title IX sexual harassment claims, the outcome for victims is often unpredictable. As a result, victims are reluctant to bring sexual harassment claims, leading to fewer victims reporting sexual harassment to institutions. Although Tracy was brave enough to bring a claim against Tucker, will the university protect Tucker to save its own image? Or will the university set aside their relationship with Tucker and take Tracy seriously? 

[1] Featured Image:





[6] See id.

[7] See id.

[8] See id.

[9] See id.

[10] See id.



[13]See id. 


[15] See id. 



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