Bulldogs continue to wait on Sidney's eligibility

December, 10, 2009
Mississippi State plays DePaul in the SEC/Big East Invitational in Tampa on Thursday and then UCLA in the Wooden Classic in Anaheim on Saturday.

After those two games, 7-foot-1 freshman center John Riek will have served his 30 percent suspension for amateurism issues and be ready to play for the Bulldogs.

Will 6-10 freshman Renardo Sidney be eligible to do the same?

No one knows.

Don Jackson, Sidney's attorney, is holding out hope that the NCAA Eligibility Center is somehow thinking along those lines, with a decision this week to interview people in California and Mississippi who were identified during affidavits obtained over the past six months.

The interviews were, according to Jackson, to be conducted on Thursday, Friday and Monday and Tuesday of next week. They will involve NCAA Eligibility Center representatives and those tabbed during affidavits such as a former high school coach in Mississippi, a bank official in Los Angeles (about a loan to the Sidney family), an organizer of Sidney's AAU team and someone who ran a nonprofit that was tied to the AAU team.

All of these people, according to Jackson, were identified months ago but are only now being interviewed.

And that's why at least one source with direct knowledge of the situation says Jackson shouldn't hold his breath, nor should the Sidney family be waiting by the phone to see if he'll be on the court any time soon.

According to the source, the difference between the Riek and Sidney cases is that a specific violation has not been identified. Riek was suspended for amateurism violations. Sidney is being questioned for how he and his family supported themselves while living in Los Angeles for two years after the family moved there from Jackson, Miss., for high school.

The source said the NCAA has not identified a violation but is sitting him at this time because of the suspicion of a violation. Mississippi State, which declines to comment on the matter, won't play Sidney unless he's cleared to compete. The fear is that games he participates in will be vacated if he's ultimately ruled ineligible.

The source said because no violation has been identified, there's no reason to presume Sidney would sit a 30 percent penalty. "The way the system is set up now, they have to make a determination before they can certify any student eligible or not," the source said. "In some cases, the presumption is that they're not eligible, and the kids have to prove that they are. This may be something the membership will have to take a look at. I can't imagine that this is the way it was supposed to work. You could just not act on something and keep a kid from playing."

That's exactly what may occur. Despite Jackson's optimism, there's no reason to believe Sidney's situation will be cleared up this month, before the SEC schedule begins or at any point this season.

The source said the NCAA might be hoping the Sidneys just pack up and go to Europe so the NCAA doesn't have to make a decision. But earlier this season, Mississippi State coach Rick Stansbury said he didn't anticipate Sidney dropping out of school and that he continued to practice with the hope he would be allowed to play.

The source said there is reason to be suspicious in this case, but "you've got to be able to prove it. Until then, you're generally given the benefit of the doubt." The source said the NCAA has known about the individuals it is interviewing this week for quite some time. For a while, it blamed the slow progress of the case on Jackson not providing information. But now he has complied.

The NCAA has consistently declined to discuss the specifics of this case, as it does for all eligibility issues. "I've said from the beginning that the NCAA intended on dragging this out, and by doing that the goal would be to have him serve a suspension whether they found something or not," Jackson said. "Nothing about that has changed. They still haven't found anything."

Meanwhile, Mississippi State enters Thursday's game at 5-2, with losses to upstart Richmond in South Padre Island, Texas, and at home to Rider in the season opener.

Center Jarvis Varnado leads the team in rebounding with 9.7 boards per game and has had help from Kodi Augustus (6.2). But the preseason hope was to ultimately get Sidney next to Varnado in the lineup (with Riek as the primary backup) to produce a frontcourt capable of competing with any in the SEC come January.

Right now, that plan is on hold.

Andy Katz | email

ESPN Senior Writer


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