June 02, 2016

STARKVILLE, Miss. (AP) Mississippi State will allow highly touted signee Jeffery Simmons to enroll in school and join the football team while facing misdemeanor assault charges for striking a woman during a fight in March.

Mississippi State announced Thursday that Simmons will be suspended for the first game of his college career, be evaluated by ''licensed professionals at the university's Student Counseling Services and be required to complete any program prescribed by that office.''

Mississippi State athletic director Scott Stricklin defended the decision at the Southeastern Conference's annual spring meetings Thursday in Destin, Florida, saying ''five seconds of a really poor choice shouldn't preclude an individual from going to school.''

But reporters pointed out that Simmons got the same punishment as someone ejected for violating the NCAA's targeting rule.

''That's an interesting way of putting it,'' Stricklin said. ''That's not how we compared it.''

Stricklin said the school ''landed on one game'' after considering several options but ultimately decided Simmons ''wasn't in our program'' or under the football program's ''structured discipline.''

''I think you're trying to be fair to the young person and at the same understand they made a mistake and they've got deal with the consequences,'' Stricklin said.

The school's decision came one day before the SEC was poised to broaden its stance on ''serious misconduct'' for transfer students. Last year, the league 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.''

The SEC was the first conference to adopt that kind of rule and was expected to expand it Friday to include ''stalking and interpersonal violence.''

Commissioner Greg Sankey said earlier this week that the expanded measure has been welcomed unanimously by coaches and athletic directors. The only hurdle remaining is for SEC presidents and chancellors to approve it Friday.

The rule, at least for now, does not apply to incoming freshmen.

''If you're transferring from a university, you're of age, you're in a higher-education setting, a different environment than what you lived as a minor,'' Sankey said. ''May have more access to legal records. ... At some point, institutions have to step up and make that decision on their own without the conference.''

So Mississippi State, which reports to preseason camp Aug. 1 and opens the season Sept. 3 against South Alabama, was free to make its own call on Simmons.

The altercation involving Simmons, his sister and another woman happened in his hometown of Macon and was caught on video and posted on the internet. Simmons can be seen landing several punches to the upper body and head of a woman who is lying on the ground.

Simmons is a 6-foot-4, 255-pound defensive end and one of top-rated recruits out of Mississippi to sign this year.

Mississippi State's decision drew scrutiny, especially after recent events at other major football programs. A week ago Baylor ousted coach Art Briles after a report commissioned by the school found he inappropriately handled allegations of sexual assault and violence against some of his players. Also, Mississippi State's Southeastern Conference rival, Tennessee, is facing a Title IX lawsuit that claims the school and athletic department mishandled sexual assault complaints against athletes.

''We expect the structure and discipline Jeffery will be a part of in our football program to benefit him,'' Stricklin said. ''Jeffery will be held accountable for his actions while at MSU, and there will be consequences for any future incidents.''

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AP college football website: www.collegefootball.ap.org

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