Mississippi State's athletic director defended his school's decision to only suspend five-star defensive end signee Jeffery Simmons for the Bulldogs' season-opening game against South Alabama, saying that Simmons' history, status as a high school student and the type of assault charge against him played a role in the school's reasoning.
Simmons is charged with simple assault and disturbing the peace, two misdemeanors, for his role in a parking lot altercation in March. He's shown on video punching a woman as she is on the ground.
AD Scott Stricklin said Thursday afternoon in an uncomfortable media availability that the school looked at Simmons' background and student conduct records in high school and was confident that Simmons' punching of the woman – err, his use of physical force "iin an effort to break up a domestic fight between his sister and another adult woman" per the school's statement earlier in the day – was an isolated incident.
"Once you make the decision [to let him enroll at the school and undergo counseling] — five seconds of action that’s a really poor choice shouldn’t preclude that young person from having the opportunity to go to the university and compete," Stricklin said. "Once you make that decision the next thing is, besides the counseling, should there be other consequences. And we ranged from 'You know what, he wasn’t a student of ours yet, we’ve never disciplined someone before they were one of our students. Should we do that?' To long-term game suspensions — I wasn’t comfortable doing that because he wasn’t a student."
Stricklin was also asked by SI's Andy Staples about the commonality between Simmons' suspension and one for targeting. If a player is ejected for targeting in the second half of a game, he's suspended for the next game.
“That’s an interesting way to put it," Stricklin said, previously noting that it was fair to debate the punishment the school gave to Simmons. "And that’s not how we compared it.
"This is a situation where — this is not a sexual violence issue as defined by law. We talked to a lot of people on our campus ... as I said, you can debate that. That's fair."
Stricklin, again, in a follow-up question about the punishment, made the demarcation between Simmons' charges and ones regarding domestic violence or sexual assault incidents – an odd line to draw given that all three fall under the category of violence against women.
"Number one, if it were a domestic or sexual assault-type issue, if this were a person that had a history, I think that is something you would look at," Stricklin said. "Again, I think you’re trying to be fair to the young person at the same time and understand that they made a mistake. There’s got to be consequences for that."
And if that wasn't odd enough, Stricklin also admitted that Simmons may not be allowed to transfer to his school if this had happened while he was a football player at another college. The SEC has a transfer ban prohibiting those with "serious misconduct" issues from transferring to schools within the conference. Perhaps that's why he so staunchly defended the decision-making based off the reasoning that Simmons was three months from enrolling at Mississippi State rather than being on campus for three months.
"I think it would be a question mark ... if you look at the triggers that are in the due diligence, he has two misdemeanors, simple assault and disturbing the peace. It’s questionable. I’ve looked at that two or three times going through this process. I think it’s questionable if he were a transfer. He’s not a transfer."
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(H/T Al.com for the video. You may need to listen to the audio in the video with external speakers)
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