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NCAA clears Michigan State of rules violations in Larry Nassar case

Larry Nassar returns from a break to listen to victim testimony at his sentencing hearing in January. (Brendan McDermid/Reuters)

The NCAA has cleared Michigan State of any rules violations, the school announced Thursday, in relation to sexual abuse committed by former gymnastics team physician Larry Nassar, and of allegations raised in a ESPN report accusing the athletic department of mishandling sexual assault complaints made against football players and basketball assistant.

In a news release, Michigan State said it recently had received a letter from Jonathan F. Duncan, NCAA vice president for enforcement, informing the school the NCAA was closing both inquiries.

“We welcome closure,” Michigan State Athletic Director Bill Beekman said in a statement. “MSU cooperated fully with the inquiry over the past several months and provided all requested documentation and access to key personnel.”

The NCAA opened its Nassar-related inquiry in January, as national outrage swelled during the lengthy sentencing hearing for the serial pedophile, convicted of assaulting nine girls and woman and accused by more than 350, including several Olympians, of abuse. While two Michigan State officials have been charged with crimes in connection with their handling of prior complaints — including, most recently, the school’s former longtime gymnastics coach, Kathie Klages — legal experts questioned whether mishandling allegations of sexual abuse fell under the jurisdiction of the NCAA, which traditionally polices athletic departments for competitive violations. Similar questions arose in 2012, when the NCAA imposed a series of financial penalties on Penn State in the aftermath of the Jerry Sandusky sex abuse scandal. The NCAA eventually relaxed the penalties, as part of a settlement of a lawsuit filed by state lawmakers in Pennsylvania.

“NCAA member organizations have a specific set of rules to which we hold each other accountable,” Beekman said. “And while we agree with the NCAA that we did not commit a violation, that does not diminish our commitment to ensure the health, safety and wellness of our student athletes.”

The ESPN report, published in February, accused Michigan State officials of “a pattern of widespread denial, inaction and information suppression” relating to sexual assault claims involving the basketball and football teams. While the NCAA found no rules violations, Michigan State’s Title IX office, which handles allegations of gender discrimination, including sex crimes, on campus, has drawn criticism for its handling of several cases over the last few years, most notably a 2014 complaint by a Nassar accuser that ultimately exonerated him.