The altercation allegedly involving seven University of Rhode Island football players and members of a fraternity in the overnight hours Sunday could have long-term ramifications for coach Jim Fleming and his program.
Sanctions in the wake of a fraternity raid by URI football players in 1996 dealt the program a blow from which it never recovered during his tenure, former coach Floyd Keith told me after he announced his resignation, effective the end of the 1999 season.
At least 31 players were involved in that incident, and three fraternity members were treated at South County Hospital. The raid occurred on a Monday afternoon after two players, bench warmers, were allegedly thrown out of a fraternity house the previous Saturday night. Two players were dismissed from the team, and 29 were suspended for one game. Robert L. Carothers, URI president at the time, forfeited the University of Connecticut game, and Keith determined that the UConn game satisfied the suspension.
This time, two players were arrested at the scene at about 3 a.m. Sunday, according to a report in The Providence Journal. Freshman Michael LeBlanc and Barrett Lyons were charged with simple assault and disorderly conduct. LeBlanc has been dismissed from the team, and Lyons and Nate Pauls have been suspended indefinitely. The other four players are being investigated and have been suspended for the Delaware game this Saturday,
The Journal reported that six fraternity members were treated at South County hospital for injuries ranging from cuts to possible fractures.
This is a situation that Fleming does not need. His team is 0-5, having lost to Brown, 41-31, Saturday night after leading 31-27 in the fourth quarter. He is trying to revive a program that has produced only three winning seasons since 1985 and has lost 22 of its last 24 games. If opposing coaches on the recruiting trail this fall and winter need more evidence to dissuade recruits from considering URI, this is it.
But, let’s remember that these accused players have not had their day in court. So let’s reserve judgment until they do. In the meantime, the suspensions are appropriate. I'm sure team policy does not condone violence, and when it occurs, it should be punished.