EAST LANSING - Michigan State football coach Mark Dantonio announced after practice on Thursday that he has reinstated senior cornerback Chris L. Rucker to the football team. Rucker practiced Thursday and may return to the field for Saturday's game against Iowa.
Rucker had been suspended since Oct. 10, after being arrested for operating a motor vehicle while intoxicated.
The charge was reduced to misdemeanor reckless driving in a plea agreement. He served eight days in jail and was released on Thursday.
Rucker, a two-time honorable mention All-Big Ten cornerback, is on probation for his involvement in the November 2009 Rather Hall fight that resulted in 11 players being charged.
"I think I'm making the right decision for him," Dantonio said, after reading a prepared statement. "The easy thing right now would have been to cut bait. It's not easy to stand here and be publicly put through the ringer.
"I know what type of person he is, so I have to do what I think is right in this area and that's why I'm the head coach. When I first came here, I wanted to be a players coach. I'm going to love our players and do my best to take care of them."
Dantonio began the press briefing with a three-minute statement.
"I have known and watched Chris L. Rucker on the field, in the classroom, in the community and as a team member," Dantonio said at the outset of the statement. "That is essentially 1500 days of working, day-in and day-out with him. The poor decision that he made had need for serious consequences, which he has now met from a team and legal perspective. It does not however rise to a lifetime banishment.
"I made this call and I should be held accountable. I hold myself accountable for this. To some critics it might be seen as a low-percentage call, or the wrong decision. It is neither, to me, our coaches or our entire team. To the men in the arena who pay the price, it was the right call for the right reasons. Each case, like every young man on this football team and any other student at this university, is different. Losing a game hurts, but removing a young man like Chris from the team is unacceptable for the duration of the rest of his career.
"When you coach, I don't care if you are at the high school level or college level, you become a parent away from home in some regards. So when the time comes to discipline that young person, I think you want to make it severe, you want to make it serious, but you also need to allow room to come back to the family, if at all possible. That's the way I have always coached and I have always tried to look for the good in young people."
Dantonio said Rucker may join the team for Saturday's game against Iowa. The Spartans (8-0 and ranked No. 5 in the Bowl Championship Series standings) are off to their best start since 1966.
"That will be a decision that he (Rucker) will make," Dantonio said of the possibility of Rucker returning to the field on Saturday. "It's important to note that if he decides to come, he takes a risk, and I understand that risk, and I laid out the risk of him coming now and playing now.
"I think it's a risk for Chris because he's got to step out now, if he wants to. If he doesn't play well, the public scrutiny on him would be even more immense, fair or not fair. So it's a risk in that capacity. It would be much easier for him to wait and play next week when there is a little less pressure, maybe.
"He has missed 16 percent of his season, he has missed two games, he has missed almost three weeks of practice."
Rucker was suspended for the Valero Alamo Bowl in December due to his involvement in the Rather Hall fight, during which 11 to 15 Michigan State football players confronted members of a university fraternity in the lobby of a university dormitory, following Michigan State's team banquet. Eleven were charged with misdemeanor assault, including Rucker, who testified in February that he attempted to kick someone, but missed.
Four of the 11 players who pleaded guilty to committing assault and battery or attempting to do so were reinstated to the team in March, including Rucker.
Rucker received a year probation. The terms of his probation prohibited him from purchasing, possessing or consuming alcohol or illegal drugs, although alcohol was not cited as a factor in the Rather Hall fight. The October drunk driving arrest violated Rucker's probation, due to use of alcohol.
According to police reports, on the night of his drunk driving arrest, Rucker was attempting to move his car from a 7-11 parking lot to a parking garage across the street for the purpose of leaving his car there overnight, rather than drive home, during the early morning hours of Oct. 10.
Police said Rucker's blood-alcohol level was .10, slightly higher than the legal driving limit of .08.
Dantonio said he had dialogue with university president Lou Anna Simon and athletics director Mark Hollis about the Rucker decision.
"I believe that my superiors believe in me to make the decision that I think is best in this case," Dantonio said. "So don't hold them accountable. They should not be held accountable for that. I was given the flexibility to make this decision and I appreciate that and I appreciate their confidence in me as their head coach to make that decision.
"But my players, my staff, myself, we know our players best. I want to afford people opportunities. He made errors in judgment obviously. I think he has paid the consequences and I hope that we can forgive him and move on.
"This is about positioning a young man for a successful and productive future. I am very sorry for his actions and irresponsibility but it is my hope that we can forgive his actions and move forward.
"If a player comes to Michigan State, I will do everything possible for that young man. And in the end if he has to leave because he steps so far out of bounds that it is no longer possible for him to stay, which has happened and I think I have dealt very firmly with other incidents, then that's the way it is. But I think I have a responsibility to that young man and his parents and his high school coach to do the very best I can for him, and that's what I'll do."