Savannah State Football Players React To NCAA Probation

By Noell Barnidge
Updated: May 29, 2006

SAVANNAH, Ga. — The one thing Savannah State football players agreed upon Saturday was that they are relieved the NCAA’s 19-month investigation of the program is finished.

The NCAA Division I Committee on Infractions on May 19 found SSU guilty of major violations in recruiting, playing and practice seasons, financial aid, ethical conduct and institutional control. As a result, SSU was placed on three years’ probation.

A number of SSU players said the punishment, which includes the loss of 36 practices through spring 2007, is “harsh” and will hurt future seasons and recruiting efforts.

Some expressed relief, saying the punishment “could have been worse.”

Others said they were shocked because they were unaware SSU was still under investigation, and did not realize the severity of the major violations.

“I knew we were under investigation, but I didn’t know it was that serious,” said quarterback Garrett Williams, who will be a sophomore in the fall. “We’re on probation until 2009? That’s my whole time in school.”

Williams said SSU’s three-year probation “might hurt recruiting.” He said he feels confident the Tigers will be admitted as a member of the Mid-Eastern Athletic Conference (MEAC).

“I think we’ll get in,” Williams said. “If we get in, we’re just going to have to work harder than any other team and maintain the right image at all times because all eyes are going to be on us.

“Those (36) practices are needed, but I guess we’ll have to spend that time in the film room or in the classroom on the board working on plays.”

SSU head coach Theo Lemon, who was hired April 10, did not return three messages left on his cell phone Saturday.

SSU players said they hope to be admitted into the MEAC, but some are concerned about the Tigers’ chances after being found guilty of major NCAA infractions for the second time since 1998.

SSU linebacker Trent Newton, a rising sophomore who made a team-high 100 tackles last season, said he is afraid the MEAC will deny SSU’s membership request. That would leave the Tigers as the only NCAA Division I-AA program without a conference.

“Is this going to hurt our chances of getting into the MEAC? My honest opinion, yes, because we’ve already done took some shots because of our record (3-40 in Division I-AA), and then this happens,” Newton said.

“It’s hurting the program’s image. I don’t think we’ll get into the MEAC. I hope we do get into the MEAC. I hope this doesn’t affect us in a negative way.

“(Friday’s announcement) was kind of shocking because I had heard about some of those things going on, but I didn’t know the investigation was still going on.

“I think (losing 36 practices) is going to hurt us a lot. We’re young and we need time on the field to practice and work on our technique. We’re coming in with a new coach and a new system, and we’re not really going to have time to learn if our practices are cut.”

SSU athletic director Robert “Tony” O’Neal on Friday said the Tigers trimmed 15 practices to meet the lower number of allowed practices by cancelling spring practice. SSU has fall practice and spring practice in 2007 in which to eliminate 21 remaining practices.

SSU offensive lineman Alvin Davis, a rising sophomore and Windsor Forest graduate, said the loss of 36 practices hurts the most.

“Thirty-six practices, that’s a whole lot of practices that we do need,” Davis said. “Personally, I think that’s a little harsh. But the NCAA has made that ruling and that’s what we have to go along with. We’ve been hearing about (the NCAA investigation) for so long and, frankly, it’s getting old.”

SSU wide receiver Stanley Byron, a rising sophomore and Groves graduate, said the NCAA’s punishment is fair.

“It could have been worse,” Byron said. “Everything that we have done, or been accused of doing, I’m sure other schools have done but just haven’t been caught.

“The MEAC is exciting for us. If we get in the MEAC, I’m going to be thrilled.”

Incoming freshman Jerome Temple, a Jenkins graduate, is among 14 signees in SSU’s 2006 recruiting class. He said he had hoped to play for former SSU head coach Richard Basil and former assistants Gary Harper, Edwin Bailey, C. Tony High and Ivy Williams, but he will honor his commitment despite their departure and SSU’s three-year probation.

“I was looking forward to playing for Coach Basil, but I talked to Coach Lemon a few days ago and we had a good conversation,” Temple said. “I didn’t really sign for the (previous) coaches. I signed for the school.”