March 7, 2010 12:33:00 AM
STARKVILLE -- The lengthy saga and NCAA investigation surrounding the eligibility of Mississippi State freshman Renardo Sidney reached a conclusion Friday after the NCAA decided to suspend him for nine games next season and make him repay $11,800 in "impermissible benefits" received before enrolling at MSU.
However, MSU officials will appeal the decision.
Sidney will also sit the remainder of this season, the NCAA revealed in a news release Friday. MSU, which held Sidney out of games while awaiting word on his amateur status, won''t appeal that ruling as it was tied to an unethical conduct charge. The nine-game suspension, or 30 percent of next season, is what MSU will appeal.
The nearly year-long investigation, and subsequent waiting game, is over and Sidney said he is relieved to have the process over with.
"I can go to sleep knowing I can play next year," Sidney said in a statement released through MSU. "I just want everybody to know I''m coming back next year. God does everything for a reason and this is no different. I thank my mom, coaches, teammates, Mississippi State and all the fans. They''ve helped me get through all of this, and it will make next year very special."
Sidney''s mother, Patricia Sidney, is also relieved a decision was finally reached.
"For both of us, it was a very emotional process," Ms. Sidney said. "I''m just glad it''s over. I don''t agree with everything, but at least we can move on. I know we have a long road ahead of us. I just thank God for having our backs. Without Him, we wouldn''t have made it. It''s been hard. I''m just glad to know Renardo can play next year. I''m so thankful for the Mississippi State administration, the coaches and everyone that''s been praying for us. And I know Renardo will be able to sleep much better now. I will, too."
The NCAA ruled similarly to what its Eligibility Center outlined in its findings based on the case statement of facts. Those results were disputed by Sidney''s attorney, Don Jackson, and the school. Still, the NCAA''s Amateurism Fact-Finding Committee outlined multiple violations. The most crucial resulting from a trip Sidney and his father took to Los Angeles in 2006.
The answers to the questions surrounding that trip, which Jackson said were "I don''t know," are what triggered the unethical conduct charge -- basically, lying -- that worried Jackson when the FFC released its findings.
Sidney''s other violations that were detailed by the FFC revolved around receiving excess Reebok gear, workouts with a trainer in 2007 and a credit line the family received in California.
Said Kevin Lennon, vice president for academic and membership affairs, in the NCAA''s news release, "Our members have made it crystal clear that student-athletes who receive impermissible benefits, either directly or indirectly, and who lie to the NCAA must be held accountable.
"This case is about more than a single student-athlete. One of our core responsibilities is to ensure a level playing field for all student-athletes and their teams. No team or individual should have an unfair advantage."
The tone of the case between Jackson and the NCAA often resulted in disagreements over whether Jackson and the Sidneys were providing all the information the NCAA requested or whether the NCAA was trying to punish Sidney by delaying the case because of weak evidence.
As expected, Jackson took another swipe at the NCAA on Friday.
"The decision has minimal real significance for this season," Jackson said. "It was apparent months ago that he would be ''suspended'' this season. The refusal to make a ''decision'' and NCAA spokesmen and women''s repeated statements that there was ''no timetable'' for a final decision made it quite clear months ago that the intent was to impose a season long ''suspension.'' Most troubling about this decision is that it raises real questions about competitive integrity and whether there was an intent to impact the competitive outcome for this season at this university."
The NCAA''s release also stated that Sidney and his family "benefited by using funds" from a non-profit organization. Those funds were meant to support travel basketball teams.
These funds would not have been available were it not for the student-athlete''s athletic skills and reputation. Preferential treatment in this case also included hotel accommodations and other travel expenses, as well as free athletic gear and training.
Jackson disputed how the NCAA could effectively itemize how the money was used.
"As it relates to the extra benefits that his family allegedly received through the non-profit foundation that operated his summer league team, he has been punished because hamburgers and fries were purchased on weekend trips in cash," Jackson said. "In effect, every dime that was used for his summer league team that could not be documented with receipts was charged back to his family. Further, he was charged with having received extra Reebok gear and his family charged for it despite the fact that there was overwhelming evidence to establish that he received nothing different from his summer league teammates."
Shortly after the NCAA''s release and ruling, MSU issued its releases.
"From the beginning, Dr. (Mark) Keenum (university president) gave us the charge to provide every resource available to help Renardo gain his eligibility, while maintaining the integrity of the university," MSU athletics director Greg Byrne said. "We felt from the beginning Renardo deserves the opportunity to be both a student and athlete at Mississippi State, and this is still our belief today."
Sidney can set up a restitution plan over the course of his eligibility to pay back the $11,800, which will go to charity. With the highly-touted 6-foot-10 forward pledging to return to Mississippi State for his sophomore season -- he loses his freshman season of eligibility -- MSU fans won''t have to worry about Sidney testing the NCAA waters now that he''s one year removed from high school.
"Sid is a great kid, and I''m glad we finally have a decision," said 12th-year MSU coach Rick Stansbury in the school''s release. "Now, we can move forward with the appeal process."
At the center of the appeal will be the NCAA''s decision to not allow exhibition games count as part of Sidney''s nine-game suspension at the start of next season. University of Kentucky freshman guard John Wall, who was found to have received improper benefits before the start of this season, was allowed to have an exhibition game count as part of his suspension.
When asked why Sidney''s case differs from Wall''s, NCAA spokeswoman Stacey Osburn said "The staff determines penalties based on a number of circumstances, but each case is determined individually."