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In a Week From Hell, Michigan State Athletic Director Mark Hollis Goes Toe-to-Toe with B1G Commissioner Jim Delany!

B1G Commissioner Jim Delany Faces Standoff with Mark Hollis and Michigan State

In the interest of fairness I need to state that I am not a fan of B1G Commissioner Jim Delany. Friends who presently work for him and who have in the past, tell stories of working for the conference which are unflattering and do not encourage me to come away with a positive opinion. 

That being said, I have done as much research as possible to explain to fans what really went down with the suspension of William Gholston and the public admonishment of Pat Narduzzi the Michigan State defensive coordinator. My overview follows.

With :01 left on the clock in the third quarter of the Michigan State vs. UM football game here is what happened. Michigan had just run a second and seven play from their own 24 ½ yard line. Dennard Robinson ran the play out of the shotgun for a first down completion to Roy Roundtree. On the play, MSU DE William Gholston was going against the OT Taylor Lewan for Michigan.

When Lewan jerked Gholston’s helmet (and head) to the ground as Will was getting up, the Spartan DE threw a punch at the Wolverine. Gholston lost his cool and was flagged for it, incurring a 15-yard personal foul penalty. It was not the first time Lewan would grab the facemask of a Spartan, nor the last for this game.

For the record, MSU, thanks to high definition coach’s tape, had 37 examples of the UM offensive tackle grabbing MSU headgear and it was ignored. No one in their right mind can argue the film, and the blatant lack of official response. What the average fan didn’t know is that the Spartans had the entire game pleaded with the official about the play of Lewan and they were essentially ignored.

Bottom-line, Gholston should not have thrown the punch, but was frustrated, as was his team, with the officials ignoring the rough play.

The head official for that particular call was the legendary Bill LeMonier. He is considered among the elite officials in the nation, having officiated last years BCS National title game. A source who works at the B1G office told me that LeMonier’s reasoning for not throwing Gholston out was that, “It happened within the context of the play and he didn’t see it as an offense worthy of throwing the player out. He cost his team 15-yards and he didn’t feel it warranted anything else.”

One current college football official who knows LeMonier well spoke to Spartan Nation on the condition of anonymity that there would be no repercussions from Delany or college football. He told us from his home on Monday night, “You can say that you always throw a kid out for a punch. Technically that is the rule, but so is holding and I can assure you that we don’t call that every play. It all is context. How does it affect the game?

You’re not going to call every hold. So that is the context there. You see wide receivers and cornerbacks going at it all the time. How many times have they thrown punches down field, blocking or battling? It’s part of an intense rivalry. The best example is the receiver and cornerback.

I agree with him (LeMonnier) that he (Gholston) didn’t deserve to be thrown out for that. Let’s say Gholston didn’t do that. They go jogging down the field and then lob punches? You throw him out for that. But he pulled his facemask down, and he punched, all in the context of the play. It’s not like he wasn’t punished. He paid with 15.”

He further noted, “I don’t like that Delany came back and suspended him and I’m not a Michigan State fan at all. Gholston wasn’t trying to hurt Lewan, he was punching someone with a facemask on. He had a better chance of hurting himself.”

“As an official in the heat of the battle there is a long string of Michigan and Michigan State games. It was a heated rivalry battle that they (officials) had let play. I am an official and you can’t say that they didn’t play some part in that. If it was Michigan vs. Minnesota and a team was up 50 I see that, you don’t want a brawl, but that entire game was a brawl.”

Almost as soon as the game was over the calls began to rain down that MSU was a dirty team. That charge had NEVER been leveled at Dantonio in any of his previous 92 games as a head coach. He is known and well respected around college football for the way in which he runs a program. In fact, the Tuesday after the game, he talked about his team and their reputations. “Well, you have to take into context, first of all, I think how we played here for the last 50-plus games, and that's how I would respond to that.” 

When asked if he was offended at how people were describing his team, Dantonio made it clear, “No, not at all. Very proud how our program plays.” Considering what was coming out of the B1G office at that time to MSU, it was Dantonio firing back at B1G Commissioner Jim Delany.

The fact that the comment involved one of the B1G “protected” teams instantly sent the B1G commissioner into crisis mode according to one of his employees. They told Spartan Nation on the condition of anonymity (fearing retribution by their employer), “There are a set of protected type schools that he watches out for. The Ohio States and Michigan’s of course. I think he is still smarting from the criticism he took for wanting and allowing the Ohio State players who were suspended to play in the Sugar Bowl. It isn’t a question of right or wrong, it is about dollars. The bowl wanted those Ohio State players to increase ratings, and dollars and he obliged. He took so much criticism that here was his chance to show the world that he was tough. Had it been a Purdue, Minnesota, Indiana player he would have done the same thing. It was not that it was an MSU player, it was that it wasn’t an OSU or UM player. He is determined to see Michigan get back.”

On Monday the Spartans were informed that the B1G office was going to investigate a possible sports conduct violation against Gholston for that punch. It wasn’t an investigation. According to sources at the B1G, it was a done deal. Delany was going to suspend Gholston and even do more.

The Spartan program however was not backing down. They refused to suspend Gholston. They felt like there were many reasons why he shouldn’t be suspended. They released this statement shortly after Dantonio’s weekly press conference:

Michigan State Athletics Director Mark Hollis:

“The Big Ten has notified Michigan State of a possible sportslike conduct violation. We are in the process of completing our internal review of the matter. We are thoroughly reviewing the entire game and utilizing all of the available resources: coaches’ video from midfield and end zone cameras, TV copy as well as still photographs. Once the internal review is completed, we will forward a written report on to the Big Ten. The conference office won’t discuss a timeline for this process and neither will we.

“We will follow the proper protocol for filing our complete report and not do it in a piecemeal manner through the media.

“As an institution, we work hard at promoting good sportsmanship and I’m sure many of you are familiar with our “Raise Your Shield” campaign, encouraging our fans to honor and respect our opponents. I also know that Coach Dantonio and his staff work hard at promoting good sportsmanship. This is an isolated incident and Coach D and his staff will continue to emphasize the importance of maintaining one’s composure during the heat of the moment.

“As an AD, I take sportsmanship seriously, but it’s equally important for me to evaluate this game and the particular play in its totality.”

One Leaders division friend of mine, who works in the administration of his school, told me right after the statement was released, “Game on. Looks like Dantonio and Hollis have drawn a line in the sand. That press release should have said bring it on Jim (Delany) we are ready for a fight.”

Before the release, word spread throughout the B1G that MSU was preparing to fight back against Delany. What we learned on Tuesday evening at Spartan Nation was that other schools had employees rising to the occasion. MSU had 37 game video clip incidents involving Lewan, and during the game had pleaded with the officials to do something about the rough play. They knew LeMonnier’s reasoning for NOT kicking Gholston out, but there was more. Delany was going to use the punch-suspension rule as the basis for the suspension, but it was not something that had been enforced as an automatic in the past. According to a source who works within Ohio State football, someone from OSU contacted MSU football to mention specific plays with the same UM OT involvement that underscored his style of play. According to people who work in Indiana athletics, the same player had grabbed at the testicular region with what they thought was intent to injure one of their players, and that he had stomped on a chest of a Hoosier player after a play. Both incidents with accompanying video and neither equaled a suspension.

Based on their case, other video (not just from the game), and the B1G’s failure to enforce the rule 100% of the time, the Spartans were certain the B1G would acquiesce.

They were wrong. According to another source at the B1G, Commissioner Delany was incensed at defensive coordinator Pat Narduzzi for his post-game comments. Either Delany has no sense of humor, or he needs to take listening 101 classes from one of his B1G schools and learn to appreciate the power of context. 

Narduzzi’s comments are as follows: “They (his defense) played their tails off. 100 miles per hour. Obviously not happy with some of the penalties we had out there, but it’s a physical game, it’s with physical people and I’ll have to look at it on tape. Probably the only disappointing thing was the penalties we had and unnecessary roughness you know, that guy (Robinson) is squirming all over the place. That’s what I thought the game was, unnecessary roughness on every play. That’s what we try, sixty minutes of unnecessary roughness. I’m just glad it didn’t get called on every snap…We don’t want 15-yards. We don’t want to hurt anybody. Feel bad that he was lying there on the ground at the end of the game. I didn’t see it…We don’t want those 15-yards and that is probably the most disappointing there. We are a classy, disciplined football team, we haven’t done that all year so I don’t know if it was just trying to protect the quarterback…our kids played hard. Aggressive football ain’t bad. If it’s late then I’m going to be mad.”

After watching the game tape, learning that the B1G was looking to suspend Gholston, and hearing the media fueled comments about his team, Narduzzi was troubled. He knows his players, loves Michigan State, more importantly loves Coach Dantonio, and has tremendous respect for Hollis. Contrary to some conspiracy ding bats, Narduzzi wasn’t asked to speak to the media that Tuesday. He wanted to. Here is what he said just after practice.

“I just want to make sure that we clear the air on my statement Saturday after the game when I was fired up and excited. Obviously it is a physical game, like it always is and obviously I probably used a poor choice of words in what I said after thee game. As youguys know we don’t teach foul play or dirty play at all. You guys know that. I think if you said in the four and a half years here how many personal fouls we had, we probably had more in one game then we’ve had, more in one game then four and a half years really. I think you could probably tally up five in four and a half years. So we don’t teach that. We’re a classy football team and I just want to say that was kind of a joke, you know probably taken out of context like a lot of things are. If you would have looked at the thirty words prior to and the thirty words after, figure it out, but I just want to make sure the air is clear. We don’t do that. We haven’t done it for four and a half years we wouldn’t start now. I think our kids were fired up.  Maybe it was those helmets, maybe it was the armor, I don’t know what it was. Our kids played their tails off and we played legal and you never know how a crew is gonna call things that’s what it was. I thought I stated that after the game. There was obviously some calls that you look at and go what was he thinking and we acted poorly.”

Again those words were Narduzzi’s. Not Hollis, not Dantonio, not Delany. His own. As far as MSU considered it, the case was closed. There was no need to punish Narduzzi and they wouldn’t. He did nothing wrong, but still apologized. Did his comments help Hollis in his fight with Delany? Of course not, but he wasn’t at fault in their mind.

Delany wasn’t satisfied.Â

On Thursday Michigan State was informed that Delany was going to suspend Gholston. Here is the official MSU press release. I will put some of it in BOLD lettering so I can discuss it afterwards.

Big Ten Suspends Gholston for One Game

The sophomore defensive end has been suspended for violating the Big Ten Sportslike Conduct Agreement.


EAST LANSING, Mich. – The Big Ten Conference office announced Thursday that Michigan State sophomore defensive end William Gholston has been suspended for one game (Oct. 22 vs. Wisconsin) for violating the Big Ten Sportslike Conduct Agreement during the game against Michigan on Oct. 15, 2011.

 The league determined that Gholston’s actions at the end of the third quarter of the Michigan contest violated Big Ten Conference Agreement 10.01.1.A.1 – “Striking or attempting to strike or otherwise physically abusing an official, opposing coach, spectator or athlete.” The conference office also publicly reprimanded Gholston for his actions.

 The Big Ten Sportslike Conduct Agreement states that “It shall be the responsibility of each member university to ensure that all of its students and all individuals employed by or directly associated with it comport themselves in a sportslike manner when representing their university, especially at intercollegiate athletic contests.”

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 “Michigan State University takes a great deal of pride in vigorously promoting positive sportsmanship,” Michigan State Athletics Director Mark Hollis said. “MSU took this incident seriously, and this was reflected in my attempt to gather, understand and share with the Big Ten extensive information about what likely contributed to the incident. As leaders, we need to ensure that our student-athletes are prepared for these moments and taught how to respond. As all observed, Coach (Mark) Dantonio and his staff reinforced this practice by immediately pulling him from the game and coaching him.

 “Make no mistake; there is no place for a thrown punch in a football game. At the same time, it was important to get beyond the two-second video clip. It is critical that we strive to reduce and eliminate the sporadic incidents that detract from the game. In order to do that, we all must understand, be accountable and manage the environment to reduce these types of reactions.” 

 “We wanted the Big Ten to understand the totality of the situation and that this act does not reflect the culture and values of Spartan Football and Michigan State University. We are accountable for the incident and accept the prescribed penalty.”

 “William Gholston is a tremendous and extremely caring young person,” MSU head football coach Mark Dantonio said. “In the heat of the moment, he momentarily lost his composure. Football is an emotional game of split-second reactions. It was an unfortunate incident. We look forward to his reinstatement.”

 “Our coaching staff and players respect the game, and our players are taught to play the game the right way. This is a physical and emotional game. During the course of a contest, there are individual confrontations that sometimes escalate. The stakes – as well as the emotions – are always a little higher in a rivalry game. We will continue to stress the importance of maintaining one’s composure during the heat of competition.”

Gholston’s Statement

“I deeply regret momentarily losing my composure late in the third quarter of last Saturday’s game against Michigan,” Gholston said. “Although provoked, my response was inappropriate. Coach Dantonio regularly reminds us that actions have consequences, and I will be better prepared to handle these circumstances in the future. I look forward to my reinstatement.”

As soon as this release came out, a B1G SID said to me, “That press release is a nice way of telling Delany to shove it. Kind of like telling a kid to sit in the corner, but in his head he is still standing up. That was priceless work by Hollis and Lew,” the latter a reference to MSU SID, John Lewandowski.

MSU was angry, but decided to move on. It was a big week and with ESPN personalities already calling out Gholston and others at MSU, via Twitter and other avenues, for their play, they simply thought it was time to move on. Delany didn’t.

I found out from a source who works at the B1G that Delany wasn’t done. He felt slighted by Hollis and MSU football for the wording of the press release, and he was still upset that Hollis hadn’t dealt with Narduzzi. Hollis wasn’t backing down. Raised by terrific parents with strong Midwestern values, Hollis wasn’t looking for a fight, but wasn’t backing down from one.

Dantonio is Narduzzi’s direct boss and he had zero intention of publicly reprimanding his defensive coordinator. In fact if anyone was going to take it, it would be him. Hollis, according to a source not employed by MSU, but with DIRECT knowledge, thought Delany’s demands were, “Bull@#$%,” and wasn’t going to do anything more or differently. If anyone would take the reprimand, it would be he, Hollis, as the athletic director. It was his department and he was willing to take the bullet.

MSU didn’t know on Thursday the bomb that was coming. On Friday morning, what my source at the B1G had told me came to fruition. Delany told Hollis he had no choice but to publicly discipline Narduzzi, or he would. As one person put it on Friday, “I have never seen Mark (Hollis) so angry (at Delany), and sad (for Narduzzi), at the same time. He was livid.”

According with those at the B1G offices, the word was that Hollis was ready for a fight until Delany issued an edict that if Hollis didn’t reprimand Narduzzi, the conference would, and “conference” meant Delany.

With Narduzzi’s stock as a head coaching candidate on the rise nationally, Hollis was not going to let that happen. Immediately the Spartan brain trust began to go into action to determine how to handle Delany’s edict. Then it became clear to them.

They would not use the word “discipline” or “censure,” they would instead use the word “admonish.” It certainly sounded more like they were supporting their star coach Narduzzi, while at the same time sending a message to the commissioner.

They also felt that with ESPN’s GameDay set, and SportsCenter hits coming, it was Delany’s desire to further embarrass them. They decided to take a play out of the book of republicans and democrats in Washington, to control the timing of the story so as to have minimal impact. It was thrown out that they would, “Dump” the story after six o’clock on a Friday, giving the story the least amount of traction as possible. As the day wore on counting up to the 6:00 P.M. release, Delany was restless and according to a source at the B1G he was, “Ballistic when the statement came out, how it was written, and the timing.” 

In the words of one B1G assistant A.D. who I know well, “The wording and timing of the Narduzzi admonishment was Mark Hollis giving a big fat finger to Delany and I can tell you that no one in the athletic program of this University was upset. He became a hero overnight.”

Here was the admonishment that Hollis sent out: 

MSU AD Admonishes Defensive Coordinator

EAST LANSING, Mich. – Friday, Michigan State Athletics Director Mark Hollis admonished defensive coordinator Pat Narduzzi for comments he made following MSU’s 28-14 victory over Michigan.

During the post-game press conference last Saturday, Narduzzi stated: “That’s what we tried to do, 60 minutes of unnecessary roughness. Just glad it didn’t get called every snap.”

“There’s no question that Coach Narduzzi was caught up in the emotion of the moment; however, that doesn’t excuse him from being accountable for his statements,” Hollis said. “Needless to say, Pat chose his words poorly, and he expressed his regret over making those comments to our local media following practice earlier this week. He requested that media opportunity to clear the air because too many took his remarks literally.”

“I have taken this opportunity to express to Pat the importance of collecting his thoughts after an emotional game to ensure that he puts his best foot forward with the media and public in the future.”

 “He’s an outstanding coach and motivator and a rising star in his profession.”

Game, Set, Match to Hollis. He was the hero in the football building for supporting his coaches and players, and instantly became a cult hero among most of the B1G athletic departments who don’t feel like a “protected team” by their commissioner. More importantly, he sent a message to the B1G that he isn’t afraid to fight.

One B1G athletic administrator from a Leaders division said it best. “If you were to poll the athletic employees, not the Presidents, but the athletic department employees, there is no doubt Hollis would win a popularity context. It was a little surprising because it is widely accepted that President Simon at MSU is pretty much in the pocket of Delany.” I will definitely have more on that later.

For now let’s go back to Saturday night after the Wisconsin game and some comments Dantonio made. Not many in the room knew what he was talking about, but I did, and now that you know the background, his comments will be even more telling. Dantonio is not arrogant, but he isn’t afraid of a fight and he sent a message right back at the B1G office of the commissioner.

He said, “I want to thank our administration publicly for staying the course. Staying the course. They know what I mean by that, staying the course…It’s easy to stand pat when…, very easy, when there are moments of comfort, but the ultimate person is really made when you handle yourself in a challenge and controversy and you stand to your, true to your beliefs and whatever those are, I have mine and I appreciate our administration and there stand with us.”

Jim Delany, no doubt, according to people I personally know who work for him now and have worked for him in the past, enjoys the attention and power he has accumulated. Power doesn’t necessarily make a leader popular. In fact, it quite often does not. It is indeed at times lonely at the top. However it is how one wields power, and the basis for decisions, that makes the difference between deserved and undeserved criticism of a leader.

According to one B1G A.D., “When he wants to get stuff done, he bypasses the sports people. He goes to the Presidents. They all see dollar signs when he talks, and he delivers them. When he wants something done he goes straight to them and they capitulate.” 

Late last week a close friend who works in a Legends division athletic office told me, “I think it is sad that MSU is being drug through the mud this week. With ESPN literally sitting on your campus, he (Delany) knows he is going to suspend Gholston. He is dragging it out to embarrass them for fighting back - keeping it in the news.”

Finally, if you want to understand the picture, in my opinion, of Jim Delany, you have to take into account an observation of a friend of mine who works at Ohio State. He paints a very interesting picture. “Delany is about Delany. He kissed Jim’s [butt] (Tressel) until finally he could wring nothing more out of him then turned - like some high moral authority. Where were you Jim [Delany], when you essentially insisted the suspended Ohio State football players play in the Sugar Bowl and then start serving their suspension at the start of this year? Of course he wanted them in the Sugar Bowl it was about money. You can’t rule from the high ground when you don’t have it. He serves an agenda, his own. As long as he brings the Presidents dollars, they have no incentive to stand up to him.”

So that is the story about the week of adversity the Spartan Nation endured. Frankly other than a few schools that Delany wants to protect, in my opinion, the entire B1G lost last week. Until the University Presidents stand up to him, he has dictatorial control of the conference. Win or lose, he learned last week that Michigan State led by Mark Hollis will fight back. Win or lose they won’t be walked on, and that includes the players. Their zero, nada, zilch, 0 penalty performance against Wisconsin was nothing short of spectacular. And it sent a message.

Mark Hollis came out like Superman.  In the political world of college sports he did the non-political thing. The way he was raised he didn’t have a choice. He saw an injustice and he had to fight. Delany wasn’t used to that.

With all the game balls handed out last Saturday night, the biggest one should have gone to Mark Hollis. It was the toughest week of his career, but it also defined him. Behind his wide smile was a man of character and integrity that was willing to draw the line in the sand and say no.

As one B1G assistant coach told me Sunday, “You think Delany was happy with Mark’s team getting no penalties against the Badgers? I guarantee you that he stewed all night about that.”

I agree. Delany may have won this war, but his retirement is approaching and when it does, the B1G will win in my opinion. It’s time for the emperor to move on.

I called Jim Delany and the B1G conference. I wanted to ask about selected enforcement of the rules and the entire process he put Michigan State through. I was told, “No comment.” Sad. The most powerful man in college football, (my many friends who have worked and do work for him tell me if you don’t believe it just ask him), can hand out edicts, rule with an iron fist, but not face simple questions.

The story always comes out! Hollis lost this battle, but won the war.

I want to make one thing very clear. Not ONE MSU athletics employee was a source for this article. I purposely didn’t call Mark Hollis to comment (as I did Delany) because it is 100% accurate and I didn’t want him to be reprimanded for something he didn’t source.