Mississippi State knows no shame by admitting recruit facing assault charge

Dan Mullen

Chuck Cook/Chuck Cook-USA TODAY Sports

One week after Art Briles lost his job at Baylor for a sexual assault scandal involving his football program, Mississippi State opted to admit Jeffery Simmons. In March, the five-star defensive line recruit was caught on tape throwing a flurry of punches at a woman on the ground. Although the wording of MSU’s press release Thursday was quite a tap-dancing job compared to the actual video of it, saying that Simmons "in an effort to break up a domestic fight between his sister and another adult woman, he used physical force against one of those involved in the altercation."

Uh, no, Simmons pummeled a woman on the ground. 

Simmons is awaiting a June 14 court date on charges of simple assault and disturbing the peace.

Simmons, according to the statement announcing the news, will be "evaluated by the licensed professionals at the university’s Student Counseling Services and be required to complete any program prescribed by that office." As part of Simmons’ punishment by MSU, he will have to sit out the Bulldogs’ opener against a 5-7 South Alabama team. The Bulldogs’ SEC schedule begins in Week Two against South Carolina before a visit to LSU in Week Three.

"It’s a highly unique circumstance to administer discipline to a student for an incident that occurred prior to that individual joining our university," MSU Director of Athletics Scott Stricklin said in a statement. "However, it’s important that Jeffery and other potential MSU students understand that these type of actions and poor decisions are not acceptable."

Not acceptable? 

Mississippi State just admitted Simmons and is sitting him for a game — one game — against one of the worst teams in the FBS. 

One game? That’s quite a message Mississippi State has sent. That if you’re talented enough and can disrupt an offense, we’ll still find a way to keep you around even if you’ve been caught battering a female. 

Now, it might not have been acceptable (to use Stricklin’s word) if Simmons wasn’t a five-star recruit, arguably the biggest get head coach Dan Mullen has landed since taking over in Starkville in 2009. The one-game suspension for the South Alabama game is an embarrassment. The timing of MSU’s announcement also seems sketchy, as SEC reporter Josh Kendall pointed out.

What led to Briles’ downfall in Waco was his philosophy of giving players, talented players, second and third and fourth chances. No doubt, there have been many players whose lives Briles helped turn around. However for those that he couldn’t "save," his decisions put the Baylor campus and community at risk, the investigators from Pepper Hamilton noted. 

It’s a fair question to ask, though, especially in the wake of Baylor, who should be able to give players like Simmons another chance? As jarring as the video was, he was charged with a misdemeanor, not a felony. 

Would this seem more acceptable if MSU sat him for a year while he undergoes counseling and completes it before they allow him to be with the team and play in games? Well, certainly more than just sitting him for South Alabama. 

Does it seem more acceptable if Simmons loses out on the opportunity to play in the best conference in college football? Is it more a case of out of sight, out of mind, if MSU turns him away and then a Sun Belt school or a FCS program scoops him up? Are we not as worried about the risk he presents to folks on those campuses given his track record?

My feeling is you have to at least start with the message you’re sending to your own campus first and to your own players, much less to other perspective recruits about how there will be real consequences for bad behavior. That if you do something as vile as put your hands on a woman, you will lose opportunities — not one game against a lower level opponent.

I’ve always heard good things about Stricklin from my colleagues and his peers, but this is his biggest decision, and he’s blown it. And his handling of this shows he’s learned nothing from what just unfolded at Baylor.