Bulldogs punished for recruiting violations
Mississippi State's football program was placed on probation by the NCAA for four years, stripped of eight scholarships over the next two seasons and banned from postseason play this season because of recruiting violations.
The NCAA announced Wednesday that its infractions committee found two former assistants and several boosters broke recruiting rules between 1998-2002. But allegations of unethical conduct against former coach Jackie Sherrill were dismissed.
Sherrill retired after the 2003 season and was replaced by Sylvester Croom. The Bulldogs (2-5) won their first Southeastern Conference game under Croom, the first black head football coach in SEC history, last Saturday when they upset Florida.
The NCAA's decision came two months after Mississippi State expected it.
"The uncertainty is gone," Croom said. "We can move forward and move our program in the direction we want it to go. ... We will not under my watch be in this situation again."
Thomas Yeager, chairman and commissioner of the NCAA committee, said the historical significance of hiring Croom was "immaterial to our conclusion," but credited Mississippi State for creating "a new atmosphere surrounding rules compliance."
"There is a new direction with the program. ... Simply changing coaches does not necessarily mitigate (that) the committee will look favorably on that kind of personnel action," Yeager said. "In this case, it was a positive evaluation."
The Bulldogs are allowed just 81 football scholarships for the 2005 and 2006 seasons, and are limited to 45 expense-paid recruiting visits in each of the 2004-05 and 2005-06 academic years -- 11 per year fewer than the maximum allowed by the NCAA.
Mississippi State in April admitted to secondary rules violations within the football program, but denied the more serious NCAA allegations of offering to provide cash and other perks to recruits.
The school had limited itself to 83 scholarships in the 2005-06 academic year as part of a self-imposed penalty -- down from the NCAA maximum of 85.
The university received a letter of allegations from the NCAA on Dec. 2, detailing 13 possible rules violations, some by former assistants coaches Glenn Davis and Jerry Fremin.
"The cloud that has been over the Mississippi State football program for the last four years certainly has not been fair to this institution, and it certainly has not been fair to (Croom) and his first year of trying to put it together," athletic director Larry Templeton said.
Among the violations, the committee found members of the Mississippi State football program improperly reimbursed prospective student-athletes for recruiting trips, giving recruits and their families money for hotel rooms and rental cars. An assistant coach arranged to pay for the summer school classes a recruit needed to become eligible and a booster allowed two recruits to stay in a hotel in Starkville for free.
It was the second time in recent years the Mississippi State football program has been sanctioned by the NCAA. Mississippi State is considered a repeat offender because the school also lost 13 scholarships after an investigation in 1996.
"Of additional concern to the committee was that both the 1996 case and this case involved the football program and a coaching staff that should have been extra attentive to the heightened consequence a repeat violator faces if it is involved in major violations," the committee said in the statement.
Copyright 2004 by The Associated Press
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