The Washington PostDemocracy Dies in Darkness

Jim Harbaugh says he expects ‘criminal charges’ for Michigan State players

Michigan Coach Jim Harbaugh, right, shares a moment with Michigan State Coach Mel Tucker after the Wolverines' win. (Nic Antaya/Getty Images)

Michigan Coach Jim Harbaugh said Monday that he expects “criminal charges” to emerge from an investigation of violence that broke out in the stadium tunnel Saturday after his Wolverines defeated visiting Michigan State.

Noting an “ongoing police investigation,” Harbaugh said: “What happened in the tunnel was egregious. It’s sickening to watch the videos, the ones that are on social media right now.”

Video of the incident from different angles showed several Spartans players appearing to assault Michigan’s Ja’Den McBurrows and Gemon Green. On Sunday, Michigan State Coach Mel Tucker announced the indefinite suspensions of four players: redshirt sophomore linebacker Itayvion “Tank” Brown, redshirt sophomore cornerback Khary Crump, junior safety Angelo Grose and freshman defensive end Zion Young.

“We’re not here to make any excuses for the behaviors Saturday,” Tucker said at a news conference Monday. “They are unacceptable.”

Tucker on Tuesday announced that four more Michigan State players — freshman cornerback Malcolm Jones, redshirt junior cornerback Justin White, senior linebacker/defensive end Jacoby Windmon and senior defensive end Brandon Wright — were indefinitely suspended.

Four Michigan State players suspended after brawl with Michigan

“There needs to be accountability,” Harbaugh told reporters before Tucker spoke on Monday. “There needs to be a full, thorough, timely investigation.

“I can’t imagine that this will not result in criminal charges,” he continued. “The videos are bad, and it’s clear what transpired. This is very open and shut. As they say, watch the tape.”

In a video that was shared shortly after the game ended, Brown, Grose and Young could be seen pushing and appearing to punch and kick at McBurrows. Footage from an ABC/ESPN camera mounted in the tunnel that emerged Monday appeared to show Green being hit with a Spartans helmet, with Crump involved in the fracas. In that footage, Windmon could be seen putting on his helmet and grabbing Green.

Harbaugh said the placement of the ABC/ESPN camera at a “higher elevation” allowed it to show “much more of what took place” during the incident.

“I’m coming from this from a perspective of being a parent,” Harbaugh said. “These young men are entrusted to me by their families to our program, and we have the responsibility to each player to treat them like our own, and I take that responsibility very seriously. An apology will not get the job done in this instance. There should be serious consequences for the many individuals that are culpable.”

In a statement issued late Sunday night by the Spartans’ athletic department, Michigan State President Samuel L. Stanley Jr. said he was “extremely saddened by this incident and the unacceptable behavior depicted by members of our football program.”

“On behalf of Michigan State University, my heartfelt apology to the University of Michigan and the student-athletes who were injured,” Stanley continued. “There is no provocation that could justify the behavior we are seeing on the videos. Rivalries can be intense but should never be violent.”

Michigan State Athletic Director Alan Haller said in a concurrent statement that the suspensions of the four players were “necessary” in light of the “alarming evidence” of their involvement.

Tucker offered another apology at Monday’s news conference.

“We are deeply sorry to both universities, the conference, our fans, alumni, supporters and of course all our student-athletes, past and present,” said the coach, who is in this third season with the Spartans.

“The incidents involving a small group of our players do not represent our culture,” Tucker added.

Citing police and university/Big Ten investigations, Tucker declined to comment on reporters’ questions about Harbaugh’s mention of possible criminal charges and about whether it “upset” him that other Spartans players did not do more to stop the assaults.

In response to reporters at his news conference, Harbaugh did not elaborate on why McBurrows, a sophomore defensive back, and Green, a graduate defensive back, were walking through the tunnel toward the locker rooms at the same time as Michigan State players. After games at Ann Arbor’s Michigan Stadium, the visiting team and its staff are first to leave the field and enter the tunnel, followed by the Wolverines’ contingent.

At halftime of Michigan’s previous home game, a win over Penn State, Wolverines and Nittany Lions players had a heated exchange. Penn State Coach James Franklin subsequently described the shared usage of one tunnel as “a problem,” after which Harbaugh accused Franklin of having been the “ringleader” of the confrontation. Franklin called for a “buffer” of a minute or two before Michigan players followed the visiting team into the tunnel and predicted at the time that the ill will that emerged during his team’s visit to Michigan Stadium “won’t be the last” of its kind.

Analysis: The College Football Playoff contenders have narrowed to, oh yeah, 13

On Monday, Harbaugh downplayed the tunnel setup as a problem and reiterated that “actions of these individuals” from Michigan State were at issue. He added that he wasn’t sure if Green, who has made 21 starts for Michigan over his career, would be available for the 8-0 Wolverines’ next game, Saturday at Rutgers.

“This has been a very traumatic experience for everybody, especially for Ja’Den and Gemon,” said Harbaugh, a former Michigan standout in his eighth season as coach.

An attorney for Green, Tom Mars, told the Associated Press that those involved in attacking his client will “feel the full wrath of the law.”

“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,” Mars said. “… When 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.”