Jul 8, 2022 - News

Lawsuit digs into Mel Tucker's $95 million contract

Michigan State football coach Mel Tucker
MSU football coach Mel Tucker. Photo: Rich von Biberstein/Icon Sportswire via Getty Images.

Michigan State hit a home run by hiring head football coach Mel Tucker, but the university is still keeping the contracts of the megadonors paying for Tucker's new $95 million contract under wraps.

Driving the news: The Detroit Free Press recently sued the university after its public records request for the donor contracts was denied.

  • Michigan State says the contracts are exempt from the state's Freedom of Information Act because "the donors have an expectation that they will not be shared with the public."

Flashback: Tucker's contract is funded with gifts from Mat Ishbia, a member of the 2000 national championship basketball team and president and CEO of United Wholesale Mortgage, and Steve St. Andre, CEO of Shift Digital.

Why it matters: The Free Press lawsuit attempts to pierce a broadly-applied excuse that public bodies give when denying records requests — privacy.

  • The newspaper wants the contracts in order to shed light on any commitments the university made in exchange for the donations.
  • "Who's making the decisions here? The school can claim autonomy all it wants, but once it takes money to be directed to an employee, that employee's future is realistically steered by two sets of hands," columnist Mitch Albom wrote of Tucker's contract.

The details: Free Press attorney Herschel Fink is arguing the contracts don't qualify for the FOIA's privacy exemption, which only shields information "of a personal nature" constituting a "clearly unwarranted" invasion of privacy.

  • "It's not private, nor is it embarrassing, nor intimate," Fink wrote in a FOIA appeal before the lawsuit was filed.
  • The Free Press successfully obtained a similar donor agreement when it filed a public records request with Wayne State University for information about the Ilitch's family's $40 million gift, Fink pointed out.

The other side: "It is the university's position that the university's privacy interests outweigh the Free Press' stated interest in disclosure," MSU President Samuel Stanley wrote to Fink.

  • MSU declined our request for comment.

What's next: MSU must respond in court later this month. We'll be keeping tabs on how the lawsuit proceeds as part of our ongoing FOIA Friday feature.

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