Roughly 10 days ago, the SMU Mustangs were dealt a mighty blow, as they received sanction based on a multitude of NCAA violations, but mostly surrounding shooting guard Keith Frazier and an online course that was allegedly taken by an SMU administrative assistant rather than Frazier.
As a result, the Mustangs received a postseason ban for this year, loss of scholarships for the next three years, a Larry Brown suspension, and vacated wins from the 2013-14 season. Generally, the NCAA basketball community was shocked at the harshness of these penalties, but expected SMU to appeal. That appeal has finally come.
In a statement on the school’s website, President R. Gerald Turner announced that SMU will appeal some, but not all of the NCAA’s sanctions, as the university believes the NCAA misappropriated some of the new rules and policies applied in the Mustangs’ case. Namely, SMU will appeal the scholarship and recruiting sanctions applied to the men’s basketball team, as well as the vacation of wins from last season. Most notably absent from the appeal is the postseason ban for the 2014-15 season, as well as Coach Brown’s nine game suspension, which the Mustangs have chosen to accept.
While this will certainly disappoint many SMU fans who were excited to see their preseason top 25 team defend their American Athletic Conference crown, it ultimately demonstrates the long-term approach the university is taking with its basketball program.
The heartbreak of not playing in this year’s tournament will wear off quickly, while the sting of losing nine scholarships over three years, as well as recruiting limits, could cripple the program for decades. With all the momentum the Mustangs have built under Brown, the thought of losing that many scholarships is far more daunting than losing one NCAA tournament.
However, the question on the minds of Mustang fans across the nation is, what will happen with seniors Jordan Tolbert, Nic Moore, and Markus Kennedy? Tolbert, a recent transfer from Texas Tech, is likely to stay, as he doesn’t want to risk another botched transfer, while Moore and Kennedy will probably have options.
Moore took home AAC Player of the Year last season, while Kennedy was Sixth Man of the Year, so schools around the nation know these guys can play at a very high level. It remains to be seen how important the NCAA tournament is to these two players.
On one hand, Nic and Markus are hungry to avenge their loss to UCLA last season, and will not have the opportunity to do that as SMU Mustangs. It seems likely that the NCAA will grant these two waivers, should the choose to transfer, and allow them to pursue the postseason glory that will evade them in Dallas.
On the other hand, these two players have to think about their whole basketball career, and there is no better man to help them with that than Larry Brown. Both seniors Cannen Cunnigham and Yanick Moreira got professional contracts after playing for the Mustangs last season, and I have no doubts that Coach Brown would do everything he can to help Nic and Markus find professional homes.
Ultimately, I foresee this program staying relatively intact this season, despite the sanctions. I have no doubts that both Kennedy and Moore had extensive conversations with Coach Brown about their transfer possibilities, and if appealing the postseason ban would be the only thing to keep them in SMU uniforms, I’m sure it would have been done. However, SMU opted to do what’s best for the long term health of the program, and Mustang fans have to be happy that in the face of adversity, the overall progress of the athletic programs is the university’s top priority.