Croom Sidelines Six Arrested Bulldogs

The legal process still has to run its course. But Coach Sylvester Croom has handed down his own 'suspended' sentences on the six Bulldog football players arrested for a Saturday night incident at a Starkville nightspot.

As of today, these six players are all under indefinite suspension from the Mississippi State football team. They are: sophomores defensive end Charles Burns, safety Keith Fitzhugh, offensive tackle Michael Gates, and cornerback Derek Pegues; and redshirted freshmen quarterback Tray Rutland and defensive end Quinton Wesley.

All six were arrested--five on Sunday and Rutland on Monday—-and released on bond, which was reduced from the $25,000 initially reported to $10,000. Having been bonded-out on April 3, their cases will resume May 1 in Starkville Municipal Court.

"It is my intent to discipline our players as if they were my own sons, my own flesh and blood," Croom said in a statement released through MSU Media Relations. "I believe this is the appropriate disciplinary action for the facts as we know them to be."

On Monday, media were advised the coach would comment on the situation and his planned disciplinary actions prior to Tuesday's practice. But Tuesday morning it was decided instead to issue a news release before noon including a coach's statement. Croom also indicated in the release he would not comment further. The afternoon practice is scheduled for 4:00.

The University, the athletic department and the football program have been cooperating with the Starkville Police Department during the investigation of the incident, which occurred at a party hosted by two MSU campus sororities at Level III, a Main Street nightspot. Various published reports state that a confrontation between two young women at the party developed into a larger disturbance that resulted in these MSU players fighting with an off-duty Starkville City patrolman also attending the party. The six were arrested on charges of felony assault, held briefly, and released on bond.

Five of these players had participated in a two-hour scrimmage game early Saturday afternoon before attending the party. All six players are not being allowed to comment to media on the incident or their situations.

Croom said in the official statement that not only are these players under team suspension, they are banned from activities at Level III. They are now under an 11:00pm curfew for the balance of the spring semester, and will be required to participate in on-campus sensitivity counseling and training.

If the outcome of the legal process merits it, Croom indicated that further team disciplinary action is a possibility. However by calling their current status a suspension, it indicates none of the players have been dismissed from the Bulldog team. Presumably then, pending the legal procedures, as well as their individual adherence to these and any further disciplinary guidelines, the student-athletes should have the opportunity to regain their places on the 2006 roster.

"I'm disappointed that the players have put themselves in a very embarrassing situation and did not use good judgment in a conflict situation," Croom said. "I'm just hopeful that lessons have been learned. As these young men move into mature adulthood, as they meet crisis situations, they must learn to either defuse the situation or walk away from it.

"Ultimately, I am responsible for their actions and I take full responsibility. But I want to stress that these are good kids who come from good families, who made a serious mistake in judgment."

Five of these six suspended players were running on either the first (Fitzhugh, Pegues) or second (Gates, Rutland, Wesley) teams in spring practices. Burns, who had winter shoulder surgery, has been limited in camp but was expected to be #2 at defensive end opposite Wesley in fall practices. All were expected to play significant roles in the coming season, though there has been some speculation Gates could be considered for a redshirt to make up for having played sparingly as a true freshman.

Mississippi State has three practice days left in this spring's camp, with regular practices Tuesday and Thursday and the public spring game on Saturday noon at Scott Field.

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