Sports media went into a frenzy covering Michigan State football coach Dantonio’s possible NCAA violations and a wrongful termination lawsuit against him. He stepped down from his position after 13 years as the team’s head coach, with a winning record in that timespan.   

The case against the coach and others was brought in federal court by a former program staffer. A recent motion filed related to the same action revealed on Monday that the coach likely committed multiple violations of NCAA guidelines related to his football program. The two most serious allegations say that the coach improperly allowed boosters to provide illegal benefits to potential recruits and their parents, and that he lied under oath. 

Coach Dantonio has already been deposed for the purposes of the lawsuit, which was related to the wrongful termination of program staffer Curtis Blackwell. However, a number of important pieces of information related to the possible violations of NCAA rules came out during that deposition, and the plaintiff’s attorney also believes Dantonio committed perjury. 

Dantonio’s defense attorney claims that the allegations are false and he has no idea what counsel for the plaintiff is talking about. The defense lawyer also says that Blackwell clearly violated NCAA rules by running for profit football camps that were promoted to other Big Ten schools such as Maryland and Rutgers while he was on Michigan State’s payroll. Therefore, his termination was legitimate. 

The underlying lawsuit details the facts surrounding Blackwell’s wrongful termination and arrest. It named several defendants, including coach Dantonio, the athletic director for the university Mark Hollis, the former university president, and two university police officers. Blackwell was ultimately arrested and disciplined by the university during an investigation into allegations of sexual assault by three football players. The university police claimed that Blackwell interfered with their investigation, but he was never formally charged after the arrest. All of the players who were charged eventually took plea deals that only included probation time. Michigan State chose not to renew Blackwell’s employment contract a few months after this incident.   

An assistant coach who worked as a defensive coordinator and linebackers coach is currently serving as the interim head coach for Michigan State football, but the team is looking for a new head coach before spring practice begins. A veteran coach will likely be needed to remain competitive in the talented Big Ten Conference that includes other football powerhouses such as Penn State and The Ohio State.  

The structure of a wrongful termination claim

Wrongful termination claims are an important part of labor and employment law. While businesses and entities such as state universities are allowed to terminate employees for neutral reasons such as financial problems or changes in the structure of a department, they cannot use these reasons as a pretext for discrimination or other illegal forms of behavior. An employer who is found to be guilty of wrongful termination may owe back pay and other additional damages.

The action for wrongful arrest can essentially be considered a form of police misconduct. This happens when officers take someone into custody without probable cause or enough evidence to create a case that would result in legitimate charges once brought in front of a prosecutor. 


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