DESTIN, Fla. — It’s hard to say what’s more sickening: the video of five-star Mississippi State signee Jeffery Simmons repeatedly punching a woman on the ground during a fight between the woman and (reportedly) one of his family members, or Mississippi State’s decision to allow Simmons to play football for the Bulldogs this fall.
After a one-game suspension, of course.
Simmons won’t be getting physical with opposing ball carriers in State’s Sept. 3 season opener against South Alabama. After that, he’s free to take the field.
The Southeastern Conference has developed a plan to prohibit student-athletes found guilty of sexual violence from transferring into and playing for its member schools. At the SEC Spring Meeting, the league announced plans to expand that rule to include stalking and other personal violence issues.
But when it comes to violence committed by incoming student-athletes, the SEC remains weak — at least for now.
“The conversation has never stopped” on such issues, SEC Commissioner Greg Sankey said Friday, clearly displeased to have to wrap up his first full year on the job with such a distasteful issue being plopped on his desk. “I never anticipated that we were done.
“This is not easy. I hope people can appreciate that. But there is a point where the legislation has concluded for the week and we move on.”
Meanwhile, Mississippi State Athletic Director Scott Stricklin was left on a metaphorical island Thursday, in between football coach Dan Mullen’s departure Wednesday and Sankey’s presser Friday.
To his credit, Stricklin faced a room full of hostile questions Thursday from media members covering the SEC Spring Meeting. He could have punted on that, but he didn’t. But the former sports information director’s words weren’t comforting, either.
Stricklin, who is the father of two daughters, talked about being “fair” to Simmons. That he was charged with two misdemeanors and not a felony for this incident. That his actions didn’t rise to the classic definition of domestic violence.
But in the post-Ray Rice world, a world when violence against women is finally, rightfully earning its perpetrators little if any benefit of doubt, a world that demanded and got a cleaned house after the shameful actions of Baylor coach Art Briles and his administration, State’s decision looks dreadfully, painfully tone deaf.
So does a comment from Stricklin, by my experience an unfailingly decent and honorable man, that is likely to haunt him the rest of his days. Asked if State’s decision is influenced by the likelihood another school would have signed him, Stricklin admitted: “You know, I think that thought crosses your mind.”
It may be for the wrong reasons, but Stricklin is absolutely right. If State shut the doors of its admissions office to Simmons, he would have been welcomed to sack quarterbacks elsewhere. Probably for one of State’s SEC rivals, rivals who are being tarred by this regrettable yet predictable decision in Starkville.
Stricklin allowed himself and State one small out, saying that Simmons will be evaluated (psychologically, one assumes) and that on the basis of that evaluation the suspension could be extended. Still, it’s hard not to view even that statement with a cynical eye and ask, “What, you’ll make him sit out the first half of the South Carolina game in Week 2?”
Don’t get too high and mighty if you support another SEC school, or another team elsewhere. This is exactly the kind of scandal, the kind of choice, that a lot of football programs and administrators could be forced to make.
Of course, a conference could make it for them. While the SEC has a transfer rule barring those who commit acts of sexual violence has teeth, it’s not the same for incoming freshmen like Simmons. The onus should be on the SEC to bar someone like Simmons, or at the very least examine the situation to see whether he should be withheld from competition for at least a year.
“We’ve been wrestling with this,” said Sankey, at least raising the possibility that such an SEC-wide rule will be forthcoming.
Meanwhile, Simmons will go to Mississippi State. He will sit out a game. He will probably play the next one. And the SEC’s reputation, deserved or not, as a win-at-all-costs conference, will remain well intact.
Follow Scott Rabalais on Twitter, @RabalaisAdv.