SEC expands 'serious misconduct' rule for transfer students

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Posted: Jun 03, 2016 5:22 PM

DESTIN, Fla. (AP) — The Southeastern Conference anticipates continuing dialogue and maybe even broadening the scope of its "serious misconduct" rule.

It might eventually be expanded to include incoming freshmen.

For now, though, the league has no means of preventing Mississippi State from enrolling highly touted defensive end Jeffery Simmons.

League presidents and chancellors voted Friday to add "dating violence, stalking or conduct of a nature that creates serious concern about the safety of others" to its current legislation regarding transfer students, a bylaw that was passed in 2015.

The new rule, which was passed as the league concluded its annual spring meetings, also mandates that schools perform background checks on transfers that satisfy the SEC's "minimum due diligence expectations" prior to the student-athlete practicing or competing.

"I can envision a continuing dialogue that looks at what we've done on serious misconduct relative to transfers, and the question will be asked is that sufficient?" Commissioner Greg Sankey said. "Should we remain there? That doesn't predict outcomes, but I envision that will be a conversation topic going forward. But I never anticipated that we were done.

"This conference has been wrestling with the issue, and it's not easy. I hope people can appreciate that. It's not as if this is done in a sterile environment, and I think that's an important conversation. I said that last year and I've said that this year. There's a point at which the legislation concluded for this week and we'll see what the future might hold without prediction."

Last year, the SEC adopted a proposal that prohibits its schools from enrolling any student-athletes who have been subject to serious misconduct at their previous college institution. The league defined serious misconduct as "sexual assault, domestic violence or other forms of sexual violence."

Georgia proposed the legislation in the wake of Jonathan Taylor's troubles. The Bulldogs dismissed Taylor in 2014 after he was arrested and charged with a felony for allegedly hitting his girlfriend with a closed fist and choking her during an argument in Taylor's dormitory.

Taylor spent the 2014 season at Copiah-Lincoln Community College in Mississippi and enrolled at Alabama in January 2015, which raised eyebrows. The Tide dismissed him two months later after he was arrested again on domestic violence charges in Tuscaloosa. He's now enrolled at Southeastern Louisiana.

So Taylor is the catalyst for the rule. But Simmons is the most recent example of its shortcomings.

Sankey said the serious misconduct rule could be difficult to apply to recruits, many of them minors, who live in states with varying record laws. So it doesn't apply to Simmons.

One of Mississippi State's prized recruits, the 6-foot-4, 255-pound Simmons was caught on video delivering several punches to the upper body and head of a woman who was on the ground after she fought with his sister.

The decision to allow him to enroll drew strong criticism, especially after recent events at other major football programs. Baylor ousted coach Art Briles last week after a report commissioned by the school found he inappropriately handled allegations of sexual assault and violence against some of his players. Tennessee, meanwhile, is facing a Title IX lawsuit that claims the school and athletic department mishandled sexual assault complaints against athletes.

Mississippi State suspended Simmons for the first game of his college career and said he will be evaluated by "licensed professionals" on campus and be required to complete any program prescribed by those specialists.

Bulldogs athletic director Scott Stricklin defended the decision and said the SEC was "comfortable" with it. Sankey disagreed with Stricklin's assessment of their conversation.

"I would not express comfort with a situation like that," Sankey said. "It's difficult. We are the conference wrestling with these issues, and obviously in a public way. Certainly no one in the commissioner's office, in my office, would communicate comfort with that situation. The reality is those institution decisions are still left at that level."

Other actions taken by the SEC on Friday:

— The league agreed to keep its annual postseason baseball tournament in Hoover, Alabama, for "a period of time to be determined." The city has committed $70 million to upgrading the facilities in and around Hoover Metropolitan Stadium. The improvements include an events center, six practice fields and an additional 1,500 parking spaces.

— Approved the purchase of conference-wide insurance to protect against lost revenue for football games. The move comes after Idaho-Florida (2014) and McNeese State-LSU (2015) games had to be canceled because of inclement weather. The SEC also moved last year's LSU-South Carolina to Baton Rouge because of flooding in Columbia.

— Voted to allow video feeds from the replay booth to be shown on in-stadium scoreboards. Previously, SEC stadiums could only show the television network's replay feed in stadiums.

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