Altering its decision to suspend a host of Southern University football players for their roles in a postgame fight Oct. 15, the Southwestern Athletic Conference called an audible Tuesday, reinstating one player and spreading the remaining 15 suspensions over three weeks.
Originally, 16 players would’ve served their suspensions at the same time. Naturally, the Jaguars, who host Alcorn State for homecoming at 5:30 p.m. Saturday in A.W. Mumford Stadium, are pleased with the reversal.
Alcorn? Not pleased at all.
For now, here’s what the SWAC’s change of plans means for SU:
• The league altogether lifted linebacker Corry Roy’s suspension, recognizing that video footage proved Roy was not involved in the massive brawl that erupted moments after the final play of Arkansas-Pine Bluff’s 22-21 win at Golden Lion Stadium. Roy will serve no suspension.
• The three SU players who were hit with two-game suspensions — senior linebacker Jamie Payton, freshman cornerback LaMarkius Pettaway and junior return specialist Byron Williams — must begin serving those suspensions this week. They will miss Saturday’s home finale against Alcorn, as well as next week’s game at Texas Southern.
• The remaining 12 suspensions, each for one game, are spread over the next three weeks, with four SU players serving one-game suspensions each week.
So, in review: This weekend, the Jaguars will face Alcorn State without seven players, rather than all 16 who were originally suspended. In addition to Payton, Pettaway and Williams, SU will play without senior tailback Terrell Alex, sophomore linebacker Anthony Balancier, freshman linebacker Daniel Brown and sophomore receiver Lee Doss.
• Next week, against Texas Southern, the Jaguars will play without Payton, Pettaway, Williams, senior receiver LaQuinton Evans, sophomore defensive tackle Kenneth Hill Jr., junior safety Levi Jackson and senior tailback Kaelan Mayfield.
• On Nov. 12 against Alabama State, Southern will play without freshman safety Jaleel Richardson, junior safety Marlon Smith, freshman receiver William Waddel and sophomore linebacker Franchot West.
The SWAC also staggered the suspensions of 25 Arkansas-Pine Bluff players who were suspended for their roles in the same Oct. 15 fight.
Southern and UAPB separately petitioned the SWAC last week, asking that the league spread out suspensions over multiple weeks (UAPB coach Monte Coleman said a thin roster could possibly compromise players’ safety).
In a prepared statement, SWAC Commissioner Duer Sharp said the conference considered the safety and welfare of the student-athletes who would have played on depleted rosters. The league also noted other players were in danger of losing their redshirts in order to fill vacant spots left behind by suspended players.
“In fairness to those that did not participate in the altercation, we have decided to stagger the punishments handed down to each school. Let me reiterate, however, these suspensions send a clear and definitive message that this type of behavior will not be tolerated,” Sharp said in the statement.
SU coach Stump Mitchell said he was happy with the new decision.
“All in all, I think we came out pretty good,” Mitchell said.
“Next week, of course, we won’t have LaQuinton Evans and a few other guys. But for this game, I think we’re probably in the best position we could be in. I would’ve loved to have Lee Doss, no question, and definitely would’ve loved to have the linebackers. But unfortunately, we got involved in an incident, and we have to serve our penalty. It’s that plain and simple.”
Mitchell said Tuesday that as he understands it, Alex and Payton — the two seniors suspended for Saturday’s game — will be allowed to participate in the customary pregame ceremony to honor seniors for their last home game.
Meanwhile, at Alcorn, the feeling was very different.
Braves coach Melvin Spears said Tuesday he believes the SWAC’s reversal sent the wrong message.
“We’ve got to set the right message to our young people. I don’t think (this is) the right message,” Spears said. “In my opinion, you shouldn’t alter the consequences. Young people need to understand that when they make mistakes, there will be consequences. As mentors, teachers and coaches, we should be the ones to show them the right thing to do.”
Obviously, Spears and Alcorn would’ve had a cozy advantage if they’d faced a lean Southern roster. But Spears said he dislikes the decision for other reasons.
He was coaching at Grambling in 2004 when the Tigers got into a brawl with Prairie View. According to The Shreveport Times, the SWAC suspended 22 Grambling players — all of whom served their suspensions at the same time.
At the time, Sharp was interim athletic director at Grambling.
“I’m still trying to make sense out of what they mean when they talk about player safety,” Spears said. “Everybody always has an opportunity to participate, whether they’re starters or not.”