James Madison suspends seven prior to FCS title game

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(STATS) - The FCS Championship Game is marred with player suspensions on both finalists, James Madison and Youngstown State.

Youngstown State won its semifinal Saturday without five suspended players. On Tuesday, the Harrisonburg (Va.) Daily News-Record reported James Madison has suspended seven players while the Dukes prepare for the championship game January 7 in Frisco, Texas.

Two of the seven - junior linebacker Brandon Hereford, who led the team in tackles during the regular season, and junior wide receiver Terrence Alls, the team's second-leading receiver - were suspended prior to the fourth-seeded Dukes' 27-17 win at No. 1 seed North Dakota State in Friday's semifinal.

First-year coach Mike Houston released a statement through the athletics department: "We have very high expectations in terms of standards of conduct for our student-athletes and our football program and how they represent James Madison University. Unfortunately, we have a few student-athletes who have not met those standards and we will hold them accountable. They did not compete against North Dakota State and have been suspended indefinitely."

Houston said at the school's fan and press luncheon he did not anticipate any suspended players back for the final.

An athletics department spokesman said there would be no further comment.

The suspensions within the CAA Football program add to the cloud hovering over the championship game.

Youngstown State was shorthanded while defeating second-seeded Eastern Washington 40-38 in its semifinal. The Penguins played without second-leading rusher Martin Ruiz, who was arrested on fourth-degree gun charges two weeks ago; wide receiver Darien Townsend, who leads the team in receiving yards; and safeties Jameel Smith and LeRoy Alexander, their Nos. 2 and 3 tacklers, respectively. Also suspended was wide receiver Robert Byrd, who has three receptions this season.

Although coach Bo Pelini and the Missouri Valley Football Conference program have not identified a reason for the suspensions, reports in Youngstown said the players were suspended after NCAA substance tests were administered following a second-round win over Jacksonville State on Dec. 3.

The NCAA tests for steroids and masking agents year-round as well as for stimulants and recreational drugs during the postseason.

If suspended for banned substances, the Youngstown State players would not be eligible to return for the championship game.

Youngstown State (12-3) is seeking to add to it four previous FCS championships, all during the 1990s. James Madison (13-1) won the national title in 2004.