Probation over for Mississippi State

Published 4:22 pm Thursday, June 12, 2008

Many Mississippi State officials and fans have been counting down the days until the end of the Bulldogs’ four-year probationary period for NCAA rules violations.

Coach Sylvester Croom was not in that group, however, and was caught by surprise when he learned sanctions against the school expired Wednesday.

“It ended?” Croom asked. “Fantastic.”

Sign up for our daily email newsletter

Get the latest news sent to your inbox

Life is about to get a whole lot easier for the Bulldogs and their coaches. Mississippi State suffered through three straight three-win seasons under Croom before a breakthrough 8-5 effort last year that ended with a Liberty Bowl victory.

Probation was put in place under Croom’s predecessor, Jackie Sherrill. It cast a pall over the program and limited Croom’s ability to turn things around quickly after his hiring in 2004. While the loss of four scholarships and a reduction in paid on-campus visits for recruits were difficult, Croom said probation hurt most in recruiting where other schools used the sanctions as a wedge.

“Just to show you how bad it is, I tell every young coach that I know never to take a program that’s on probation,” Croom said in a phone interview from Green Bay, Wis., where he is on vacation. “I would not do it again.”

Mississippi State remains under the NCAA’s no-repeat clause until Oct. 29, 2009. If the school commits a repeat violation during that time, it is eligible for additional penalties.

Croom said fans have no reason to worry on his watch.

“It’s something, the way we operate, that we’re constantly reminded of because I think our coaches feel our compliance officers go above and beyond as far as making sure we don’t have any repeats,” he said. “I like doing business that way because there are a lot of things that you might overlook sometimes or you don’t understand.”

The football program’s 2004 probation was the fifth time the school was penalized for major infractions since 1967, NCAA records show. The NCAA brought sanctions after two assistants under Sherrill were accused of providing improper benefits and contacting recruits. The football program also was put on probation for similar violations in 1996 and 1975.

“I think it speaks volumes for our coaching staff and student athletes that they understand the importance of what we’ve been dealing with the last four years,” athletic director Larry Templeton said.