After an emotional and trying weekend that included unexpected roster upheaval, an 11th-hour flight to North Carolina to play a football game against a Power 5 opponent while shorthanded, the real work begins for Florida A&M.
Head coach Willie Simmons and the program will work over the next several days to attempt to restore the eligibility of players who were not cleared by the NCAA to compete in the Week 0 season opener.
On Thursday, the school was notified that 26 players were declared ineligible to play on Saturday, with some slated to miss several games.
FAMU eventually worked with the NCAA to get six players cleared to play. But star player Isaiah Land, a surefire NFL Draft pick, was one of many Rattlers held out because of clearance or eligibility issues.
The Rattlers played valiantly without some of its scholarship players against the Tar Heels in a 56-24 loss. However, the most important game on the schedule to date — one that will define its season — is next Sunday versus SWAC champion Jackson State in the Orange Blossom Classic.
It is that game, one that will likely decide who wins the SWAC East, where a bulk of the 20 ineligible players will be needed.
“We have a lot of work to do Monday,” said Simmons. “And we have to try to get some guys certified. We’re going to try to get some waivers out and we have our work cut out for us as an institution and compliance, academics … the whole nine.”
On Saturday morning, hours before kickoff, school president Larry Robinson indicated that the university would work to address the concerns expressed by the players about how the team’s compliance situation and other matters have been handled.
“The university is committed to making sure that we get everything that we need,” said Simmons. “We are optimistic that we’ll get more guys back this coming week and that we’ll have a more complete football team going into Miami next weekend.”