Southern football coach Stump Mitchell said he plans to ask the Southwestern Athletic Conference to allow some of his players to serve their suspensions later this season so they can participate in next week’s home finale against Alcorn State at A.W. Mumford Stadium.
The SWAC suspended 16 Southern players for their roles in a postgame brawl after last Saturday’s loss at Arkansas-Pine Bluff.
It also suspended 25 players from UAPB.
Four of Southern’s penalized players - receiver LaQuinton Evans, linebacker Jamie Payton and running backs Terrell Alex and Kaelan Mayfield - are seniors who would’ve been honored in a customary ceremony before kickoff of the Alcorn game, which is also homecoming.
Southern is idle until then.
Asked if the appeal is for all suspended seniors, Mitchell responded: “Well, it will definitely be seniors. No question about that. And if we could do half, that would be awesome. If we could do eight and eight, that would be great.”
Attempts to reach SWAC Commissioner Duer Sharp were not immediately successful Friday afternoon.
Mitchell said he has no problem with the suspension, adding that even if the SWAC grants his request, the players in question would serve their suspensions “on the back end.”
Payton is one of three Southern players who were hit with two-game suspensions. The other 13 players, including Evans, Alex and Mayfield, are serving one-game suspensions.
“But I definitely want these seniors to be able to play their last (home) game and also be a part of homecoming before the game,” Mitchell said.
As it is, the suspended players would not be permitted in the stadium.
In an interview earlier Friday, before Mitchell announced his request, Sharp said he and other members of the SWAC administration in Birmingham, Ala., took part in the investigation, adding that “eight to 10 eyes were better than just my two.”
Sharp said the SWAC looked at other similar events, such as the 2004 Clemson-South Carolina fight; the 2004 Grambling-Prairie View fight; and the 2006 Miami-FIU fight; as guides for their investigation and penalties.
“We wanted to be thorough, and that’s the reason why it kind of took longer,” Sharp said. “It also helped that both schools have a bye this week, so we really weren’t under that much pressure. It did actually allow us to review the film and take our time with the entire process.”
Sharp also said that no one could determine who, or what, caused the fight to begin or escalate.
“I don’t think there was one person or one team,” he said. “I thought what you had was a highly contested football game that came down to the last play of the game, and, you know, with any game that is played that competitively, and with that type of emotion, sometimes, people tend to lose control of their emotions.”
UAPB blocked an extra-point attempt with no time remaining to preserve a 22-21 win.
“I think from the time the two teams gathered at the middle of the field there, no one knew what was going to happen. It just took a turn for the worse,” Sharp said. “But I wouldn’t say it was one player or one person who started it. I think it was just a number of individuals.”
The mayhem was not confined to the field at Golden Lion Stadium, however.
Fans in the eastside stands, sitting directly behind Southern’s bench, were seen firing soda and water bottles onto the field during the fight.
Mitchell said Friday that during the game, members of his coaching staff asked security to remove fans from the crowd, saying they had already thrown bottles and squirted water at players.
“And I guarantee you that was not a majority of the fans. It never is. But there were a few that caused things to escalate on the sideline in regards to that,” Mitchell said. “I probably should’ve taken my team to the locker room and not allowed them to play until ... certain fans were removed from the stadium. But I didn’t do that.”
Sharp said earlier Friday that Mitchell and others alerted him to the problem during this week’s investigation.
“I think, as a commissioner, you’re always aware that there are hostile environments when you go to play. The one thing that concerns me is if an environment is unsafe, for student-athletes and for fans,” Sharp said.
“So I think that will definitely be something that we’ll talk about during our next conference call with the athletic directors and our (senior women’s administrators), saying that we probably need to look at taking a stronger stance on student-athlete and fan safety at our venues.”
Sharp added that security and safety issues would ultimately “be an institutional decision.”