The office pools are on, the brackets are busted and the first weekend of the NCAA’s men’s college basketball tournament is in the books.
It’s a dramatic story so far for the University of Michigan, as a last second three-point shot sent the Wolverines to the Sweet 16.
But it’s the last chapter for Michigan State’s season.
The highly-favored Spartans lost by a basket in only their second game of the tournament.
There were already clouds hanging over this year’s March Madness from allegations that some colleges used improper payments to recruit athletes.
And Michigan State fans, in particular, have endured a time of turmoil.
There are moments even casual college basketball fans live for.
Cinderella squads like the University of Maryland-Baltimore County becoming the first number 16 seed to ever defeat a number 1, in this year’s case Virginia.
Or a Goliath like the Mateen Cleaves-led Michigan State Spartans in 2000 ticking off the final seconds towards a national championship.
But that Michigan State is not this year’s Michigan State, not with the university reeling from the sexual abuse scandal that sent former gymnastics doctor Larry Nassar to prison.
And not after star Michigan State player Miles Bridges’ name surfaced in an online article about a federal investigation into bribery and corruption in college basketball.
“Do whatever. Lock ‘em up. But don’t touch our Spartan football and Spartan basketball team.” – Michigan State fan Claudia Lamb
Michigan State’s own review found only a minor NCAA infraction, an agent’s $40 dinner with Bridges’ family, which he reimbursed to charity.
Yet by last month, on the heels of claiming the Big 10 title, Michigan State Coach Tom Izzo told reporters he’d had enough.
“I was not involved in this thing at all. This was our compliance people and the NCAA,” Izzo says. “And this isn’t gonna be the time when I’m gonna answer a lot of questions. I know that’s important to you. It’s really not to me. We just won a championship.”
That title sent Izzo and Michigan State to their 21st consecutive NCAA tournament appearance.
And Spartans fans were quick to follow.
Even a free public practice at Little Caesars Arena in Detroit, one of the sites hosting the tourney’s opening games, proved to be a big draw for fans Roger Luedeman.
He keeps the team close to his heart.
He has a Spartans tattoo on his chest.
And Ludeman says he retains the Michigan State pride that drives him to offer his services as an usher or parking lot attendant during games.
But he admits this year has been a tough one.
“The doctor (Nassar,) he’s not even worth mentioning. (He) certainly made MSU an embarrassment. But at the same time you’ve gotta play above it,” Ludeman says.
A few rows away at the arena, longtime fan Claudia Lamb shepherds some of her grandchildren, who she pledges will follow the example of her siblings and daughter and one day graduate from Michigan State.
Lamb says critics are trying to tarnish all of Michigan State by the actions of a relative few.
“They just want to bring down the whole school,” Lamb says. “And yes, it’s awful and so forth. But that’s separate from Izzo, from the teams. It’s just separate. It has to be separate. Do whatever. Lock ‘em up. But don’t touch our Spartan football and Spartan basketball team.”
For some Michigan State fans even a long run through the tournament would have covered a multitude of sins.
Now the basketball team faces an off-season of questions with as many as three players possibly turning pro.
And the university itself may need to make a rebound with investigations still continuing into its conduct.