A ruling handed down by new Sun Belt Commissioner Karl Benson left Arkansas State Coach Gus Malzahn confused and shorthanded for the Red Wolves big match up this weekend against Western Kentucky.
Benson suspended ASU linebacker Qushaun Lee after he reviewed a video of Arkansas State’s game with Alcorn State and deemed Lee’s hit worthy of ejection and therefore worthy of suspension by the league’s office.
The confusing part of this story is the fact that Malzahn received notification by email from the Head of Officials of the Sun Belt ruling that he felt like that the hit was not worthy of an ejection or suspension.
Benson, who overruled his Head of Officials, suspended Lee on Monday. Malzahn and athletic officials at Arkansas State appealed the ruling on Tuesday, only to see the appeal denied and the suspension being announced late Wednesday afternoon.
Benson made an appearance on AStateNation Sports Radio with AStateNation’s Publisher James Bryant Wednesday before lunch and stated in the interview that although he has the right to suspend any player even though he wasn’t ejected, was a judgement call and part of his job.
When questioned about his comments, Benson said while he had suspended players while was the Commissioner of the WAC conference he had not suspended any players in the Sun Belt Conference since his arrival over such an incident.
“That’s part of my job,” Benson told AStateNation. “I’m able to review film and if I deem it necessary to suspend someone over a hit even though he wasn’t ejected is part of my job.”
Have you ever suspended anyone in this situation?
“Yes several players while I was over the WAC.”
Have you ever suspended anyone in this situation since taking over as Commissioner of the Sun Belt?
“No I have not.”
Apparently this was not true.
A press release by the Sun Belt office was released less than two hours after the radio interview stating Lee had been suspended for the Western Kentucky game due to his hit against Alcorn’s Quarterback. Lee was flagged for the hit, but wasn’t ejected on the play and continued to play in the game.
According to Malzahn in an interview after practice Wednesday evening, he was notified of the suspension on Monday after being told that Head of Officiating in the conference that the hit did not deem being ejected or suspended for.
“It really surprised me from the standpoint that the officials didn’t kicked him out of the game,” Malzahn said. “The head of the officials in our conference got a email from saying that he didn’t think it was a cheap shot or warranted suspension. Then the next day he was suspended, it’s a tough blow for us, but very surprising.”
According to Malzahn he was notified by league officials that Lee was suspended on Monday. This ruling was appealed by Malzahn and athletic officials on Tuesday and the appeal was denied.
Malzahn was caught off guard by the ruling.
“I’m shocked by this,” Malzahn said. “It’s a huge factor, second leading tackler, one of our better special team players. In a deal like this, our whole team has to rally we have play better in every area, it is what it is, we will have to make the best of it.”
According to Malzahn, he and his staff will have a good plan on how to deal with Lee missing out of the lineup.
“Nick Nelms will play the position some, it will be kinda of committee somewhat, we will have a good plan.”
While Lee’s suspension was surprising due to the circumstances, the Sun Belt Office announcement Monday morning that Western Kentucky’s star defensive safety Jonathan Dowling, who had been ejected in the Hilltopper’s game with Southern Mississippi, wasn’t a surprise and is standard operating procedure according to Sun Belt Regulations.
Benson had this to say about Dowling’s ejection and suspension.
?“I was at that game Saturday,” Benson said. “Anytime someone is ejected from a game for any rule violations, that player will not play in the following game for his school. We have to protect players from injuries, that’s part of my job.”
Western Kentucky’s Head Coach Willie Taggert appealed Dowling’s suspension and was denied his appeal as well.
Both teams now lose one of their top defenders for Saturday's marque conference match up.