Charleston Southern is ranked eighth in the country in the Football Championship Subdivision Coaches Poll and 10th in the STATS FCS Poll.
The Buccaneers took five-time defending national champion North Dakota State to overtime on the road in their opener after having a field goal attempt to win at the end of regulation, and are considered a national title contender.
Yet despite what it has accomplished and might accomplish on the field this season, Charleston Southern’s football program has gained more notoriety for what has occurred off the field.
The Bucs made national headlines when the school suspended 32 players one game each for the alleged misuse of financial aid money, and coach Jamey Chadwell and an assistant for a game each for impermissible contact of a recruit through social media.
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The football players allegedly spent money that was allotted for books on other things, including other school supplies, in the campus bookstore after being told by bookstore workers that they would lose the money if they didn’t spend it.
The suspensions have all been served, so the Bucs (2-2) are full strength for their battle with No. 14 Coastal Carolina at 6 p.m. Saturday at Brooks Stadium.
Chadwell said Tuesday he believes the problems may have helped the team become more cohesive.
“I felt like we were together and had really good chemistry before that whole situation,” Chadwell said. “When all that went down it didn’t separate us. If anything it did make us a little tighter. But our guys have been a pretty tight-knit bunch regardless.
“When you come off a [Big South Conference] championship there is a complacency that can maybe come into effect. When all this went on, all of our focus was dealing with that and how to respond. So I think it has made us relish or more enjoy being together and enjoy playing each game, because they’re not guaranteed. With what happened it got real.”
The suspensions were handed down by the Charleston Southern administration in an attempt to avoid further punishment by the NCAA. The administration said it sought input from Big South Conference officials and a consultant who is considered an expert on NCAA infractions and resulting penalties.
But not everyone is convinced the NCAA would have doled out any penalties to the students for what is considered a minor infraction, and some football players took to social media to convey their disappointment with the school.
The suspensions were generally split over two games, as about half of them were served in a 57-7 win over Kentucky State on Sept. 3 and nearly half were served three weeks ago when the team traveled to Florida State and was defeated 52-8.
Prior to the Florida State game, senior wide receiver Colton Korn wrote on Facebook: “As for me, a guy who has been blessed to start 36 games, attend as many other athletic events and school events as time would allow, do countless hours of community service wearing CSU clothes, I'm bewildered at the lack of respect that the university is showing us athletes and student body as a whole. I want to wish my brothers luck who are going into a hostile environment shorthanded.”
Whether the Bucs are now playing for or in spite of the private university they represent, Chadwell believes his players now have their focus on the right things moving forward.
“I don’t think there is any bitterness. I think there was obviously some hurt. Obviously it was an emotional time,” Chadwell said. “I think kids 18-21, they’re going to put what’s on their heart out there on social media, that’s the world we live in. Sometimes it’s justified, sometimes you wish they’d think a little bit more before hitting the send button.
“But I feel those things are past and that moving forward the guys understand those are things that are out of our control now. What has happened has happened. Nothing else is coming forward. So we can look past that and say, ‘Hey, we survived it and we got through it.’ ”
The OT loss at North Dakota State may have opened some eyes around the country to the level of play Chadwell has developed at CSU in his four years at the school, where he is 30-12.
“Our expectations were high. We weren’t surprised by that truthfully, or disappointed we didn’t win. We felt we were good enough to win and really had chances to. I think everybody else was more surprised by it,” Chadwell said. “… We’ve had high expectations for our program and feel we’re capable of playing with teams of that caliber. I think because we didn’t get it done it motivated us more, that if we continue to do certain things we’re capable of having a chance to get back there.”