Long: Arkansas Issues "Strong Response"

FAYETTEVILLE — Arkansas athletic director Jeff Long believes a "strong response" has been issued for the men's basketball players involved in an incident with a female student last month.

Long offered his support for John Pelphrey's decision after Arkansas' basketball coach announced in a university release he was levying "two- to three-game" suspensions and other in-house punishments after "a recent review of issues involving certain members" of his team. No players were named by Pelphrey, who cited student privacy laws.

"I think given the poor decisions of the student-athletes, the situations they place themselves in, we think this is a strong response to those young men," Long said. "We think it sends them a strong message that they need to make better choices.

"I think that playing time is something that is very, very important. We feel like we've taken a substantial piece of that away from them."

An 18-year-old student claimed she was raped by three players — junior Marcus Britt, freshman Glenn Bryant and walk-on Nick Mason — at the Phi Gamma Delta house on Aug. 27. Prosecutors did not file charges in the case after determining the incident was consensual.

Sophomore Courtney Fortson — who was not named in the incident — also faces disciplinary action for a potential violation of the school's social networking guidelines. Fortson posted a crass message on his Twitter page Sept. 7, while his teammates were being investigated.

"Although the student-athletes involved have been cleared of any criminal wrongdoing, we expect Razorback student-athletes to adhere to a higher standard and code of conduct," Pelphrey said. "We will continue to address disciplinary issues in a straightforward manner as we fulfill our mission to develop our student-athletes to their fullest potential as students, student-athletes, citizens and young adults."

In addition to the suspensions, Arkansas also said players will be subject to meetings with an appropriate professional regarding decision-making choices, educational meetings concerning the university's policies, extra conditioning and training regimens, and community service. Any future violations of team rules or athletic department policies may result in dismissal from the team.

John Bass, a Springdale attorney representing the woman involved in the incident, said the punishment is not the "justice" she seeks. Bass said last week the woman and her family would consider requesting the appointment of a special prosecutor because of a professional conflict between current and former Arkansas staff and the prosecutor's office.

" ... She and her family are disappointed that this action was taken before the University of Arkansas' Office of Community Standards and Student Ethics has had an opportunity to hear the merits of the victim's ethics complaint filed shortly after the incident," Bass said in an e-mailed statement. "We are continuing to gather information and review all options as previously stated, and no decisions as to future action have been made at this time."

Arkansas also announced in its release that any other basketball player who violated team rules prior to last month's incident are also subject to "individual sanctions and corrective measures."

Long said suspensions for players involved in the fraternity incident will begin simultaneously at the start of the season. Disciplinary action unrelated to the incident "will be spaced out in order to provide us a reasonable chance to compete with a number of players."

The two- to three-game suspensions mean Arkansas will be shorthanded when it opens the season. The first three regular-season games are against Alcorn State, Louisville and Appalachian State.

The suspensions are the latest in a string of issues that have plagued Pelphrey's program the past year. But Long said blame shouldn't fall on Pelphrey's shoulders for disciplinary problems.

Long said a coach should be held responsible only if he does not act appropriately when there's "misconduct or missteps in the program."

"He has had expectations and when young men have fallen short of those expectations in our program, he has not failed to take appropriate disciplinary action," Long said. "Even when it meant the possibility of losing a game on the court. I respect that. I support that."

The issue also prompted a response from the university, which placed a hold on Phi Gamma Delta's social activities. Additional restrictions are possible depending on the outcome of an investigation by Greek life administrators, according to a university release.

All fraternities and sororities will be required to provide the name and contact information for advisors at social functions, and those advisors will be required to stay for the duration of any party or other social gathering, according to the release.

Dan Craft contributed to this report.

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