The Southwestern Athletic Conference is considering proposals from the Southern and Arkansas-Pine Bluff football teams to have their suspensions staggered, commissioner Duer Sharp confirmed Monday.
The league does not have a timetable for making its decision.
“But for us, the sooner the better,” Sharp said. “We want the schools to have time to prepare, one way or the other.”
The SWAC suspended 41 players from both teams — 16 from Southern and 25 from UAPB — for their roles in the Oct. 15 postgame brawl at Golden Lion Stadium, just moments after UAPB blocked an extra-point attempt on the final play to preserve a 22-21 win.
Three Southern players and five UAPB players were suspended for two games. The rest were suspended for one game.
SU coach Stump Mitchell said last week he had asked that some players, especially four seniors, be allowed to serve their suspensions after the home finale at 5:30 p.m. Saturday against Alcorn State (2-4, 1-4). That game is also homecoming for Southern (2-5, 2-3).
“I think commissioner Sharp will probably let us know at least by Thursday, and I’m sure if he can do it sooner than that, he will,” Mitchell said.
“We’re not appealing the suspensions, because we are responsible for our own actions. What we’re trying to get is to not have to take them all at once. But they all will be served.”
Sharp said the office will “look at it and consider it. It all depends on the circumstances.”
What circumstances would lead to relief?
“The impact on student-athletes health and safety,” Sharp said. “And obviously, you don’t want it to affect redshirts, to where you would make a student-athlete have to use his redshirt.”
Mass suspensions for one game could do just that.
Southern, for example, would play Saturday’s game without five linebackers — Anthony Balancier, Daniel Brown, Jamie Payton, Corry Roy and Franchot West — if the SWAC’s original ruling stands.
UAPB proposals ‘on table’
Arkansas-Pine Bluff coach Monte Coleman also said his team is “still talking with the league office as far as when these guys will be suspended,” adding that he believes safety could be an issue if the SWAC forces all 25 of his suspended players to miss the same game.
“When you lose 25 players ... it leaves you short-handed,” Coleman said. “And we all know that kids get a little winded, and the thing that we want to do is try to have a good supply of guys so guys won’t get winded and possibly injure themselves on the field.”
At the moment, UAPB is the only team that controls its own fate in the Western Division.
The Golden Lions (4-3, 3-2) host Grambling (3-4, 2-3) at 2:30 p.m. Saturday.
A fortified line?
Mitchell said Monday he hopes the Jaguars’ time off last week will help fortify a defensive line that was already thin because of injuries, not suspensions.
Defensive tackle Traé Tiller and end Delwin Williams both missed the UAPB game with ankle injuries, and end Jeffrey Watkins tried to play through what Mitchell called an “extremely painful bone bruise.
Also, end Kadeem Lewis played “about 50 percent” against UAPB.
Mitchell said Williams “ran well” last week, but he wouldn’t know more about Tiller’s status until the team returns to practice Tuesday.
Southern largely failed to slow down UAPB’s ground game, allowing 298 rushing yards in the loss. The Jaguars rank last in the SWAC in run defense, giving up an average of 198.0 yards per game.
Another QB shuffle
Southern isn’t the only SWAC team flip-flopping quarterbacks these days. Alcorn, somewhat surprisingly, has gotten in on the act as well.
The Braves came into this season with a promising young quarterback in sophomore Brandon Bridge, an Ontario native who earned the nickname “Air Canada” after an impressive freshman season when he threw for 2,086 yards and ran for 601.
But Bridge has not adapted as well to new coach Melvin Spears’ spread offense. He has completed 50 percent of his throws for five touchdowns and four interceptions — and last week, in a 58-16 win against Concordia College, he didn’t play at all.
Instead, sophomore Darius Smith went the distance, throwing for 162 yards, four touchdowns and one interception.
“It’s not so much about what Brandon didn’t do. He’s an excellent athlete,” Spears said. “At the end of the day, we need a guy who can really conduct things and do the things we need him to do, from a quarterback nature.”