It’s going to be the elephant in every living room that Mark Dantonio walks into.

Until we get more information regarding the circumstances surrounding the Outside The Lines report that indicated the Michigan State coach didn’t properly handle sexual assault claims against his players, he’s not escaping that question, nor should he.

The bombshell that was dropped on East Lansing on Friday afternoon was a long time coming. Did Dantonio know how bad the report was going to be? Did he expect OTL to report that he dealt with one sexual assault from one of his players by having them talk to his mother about what he did? Maybe, maybe not.

Shortly after the report surfaced on Friday night, Dantonio made a statement in which he called those claims “completely false.” He stood in front of the MSU media and tried to distance himself from any wrongdoing in his handling of sexual assault claims. Dantonio said he wanted “to look people in the eye.”

Credit: Jake Roth-USA TODAY Sports

Who did Dantonio want to look in the eye more than anyone? This might sound cynical, but I don’t think it was his current players or even the victims involved (by calling the claims about his role in the OTL report “completely false,” that’s not siding with the victims).

If Dantonio wanted to speak to his players, he could’ve done so in a closed-door meeting, and one in which players were actually at. If Dantonio wanted to speak to the victims or their families, he could’ve met with them face to face.

Dantonio wanted to send a message to recruits. It should’ve come as no surprise that he made it a point to address the report before the weekend kicked off. Do you really think Dantonio was going to let a story like that sit just 12 days before National Signing Day (the second one)?

Of course not. He wanted to get out and defend himself.

The last thing he wanted before signing day was a report that he was about to get fired or that he was resigning. After all, this is the B1G East. Negative recruiting is the name of the game.

This, however, isn’t negative recruiting. Negative recruiting is telling a recruit that Urban Meyer is on “the back end of his career” like Dabo Swinney did. No rival coach should have to go into great detail about the circumstances at MSU right now. And that’s not just because the Larry Nassar scandal brought everyone’s focus to East Lansing.

One has to think that every mom who has a son who’s considering playing for Dantonio is going to do their homework on the turmoil at MSU. Call me crazy, but I bet Dantonio is going to have to answer more than the two questions he took at the end of his statement on Friday night.

Some moms and dads might grill Dantonio like the Outside The Lines reporter grilled Tom Izzo on Sunday afternoon:

Repeating “I’ve always worked with the proper authorities when dealing with the cases of sexual assault” won’t be good enough. Dantonio cannot call this a witch hunt, either. Everyone looked into the eyes of the parents whose daughter who claimed she was sexually assaulted by multiple football players, and that the university did nothing about it.

It was powerful. It was damning.

How does Dantonio bounce back from that? He can’t possibly assume that he’s going to walk into living rooms and expect to talk Xs and Os and about how great the culture is at MSU. Lord knows he’s probably been fielding a barrage of phone calls from recruits/parents since the story broke.

Side note: Can you imagine how MSU’s recruiting would look right now if there wasn’t an Early Signing Period for the 2018 class? Dantonio is fortunate that he already has 20 recruits who signed their letters of intent is December. A mess like this before the real signing day would’ve been disastrous.

In the bigger picture, this story has already been disastrous for MSU. Dantonio and Izzo entered last week as two of the most respected college coaches in America. They entered this week under more fire than they could’ve ever imagined. Who knows if either of them will ever be able to move past this and recruit like they once did. There are other more pressing issues to tackle in the immediate future, but that reflects the bigger hurdle moving forward.

How can Dantonio convince parents that MSU doesn’t have a sexual assault problem?

Even if you want to question the OTL report until more evidence comes to light, one can’t deny that Dantonio had to kick four players off MSU because they were charged with sexual assault last year. Michigan didn’t have that problem, and neither did Ohio State, Penn State or any of the other schools that MSU battles against in the recruiting world.

The margin for error is slim. That’s why schools like MSU are so protective of their image. Nobody asked why the university would turn a blind eye to sexual assault claims to protect its top revenue athletic programs. That answer goes without saying. There’s a different question worth asking though.

Why should a parent trust Dantonio to take care of their son after watching the Outside The Lines report?

I’m not sure there’s an answer to that right now.