Kerwin Bell

Pioneer Football League drops megaton hammer and postseason ban on Jacksonville

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It is not often College Football Talk dives into the world of the FCS, and it is even less often we will discuss the Pioneer Football League. Because of that, you know something’s up when we do.

The Pioneer Football League has hit the football program at Jacksonville University with a one-year postseason ban and has vacated wins from the past five seasons. The offense? Financial-aid violations. The Pioneer Football League, a football-only conference made up of 11 schools does not allow for football scholarships to be awarded. The Pioneer Football League says Jacksonville inappropriately dispersed financial aid to players, although an internal review by the university and the league found no NCAA violations. Despite that, Jacksonville (coached by former Florida Gators quarterback, 1984 SEC Player of the Year and two-time All-American Kerwin Bell) has accepted the punishment handed down by the league and will sit out the postseason in 2015 after voluntarily sitting out of a potential postseason opportunity last season while an investigation was ongoing. Jacksonville volunteered to vacate its 2010 conference championship and all league wins from 2010 through 2014 (a total of 30 wins in conference play).

That’s not all either. In addition to the postseason ban and accepting the self-imposed penalties, the Pioneer Football League reduced the number of roster positions for the program from 130 to 96 and three coaching positions. According to Jacksonville.com, the university also lost its junior varsity program. That is crippling for a program like Jacksonville.

“I’m heartbroken by it. I’m heartbroken by it because of the kids,” Jacksonville athletic director Donnie Horner said, per Jacksonville.com. “These returning seniors, these returning sophomores, these returning juniors, this is effectively their second year [of punishment]. And that’s painful for those kids. But it’s clear to me in conversations with the league that they decided to impose the ban this year because of the severity of our not adhering to the PFL financial aid rules. These are not trivial, miniscule differences.”

This is not the first time one of the top programs in the conference had to sit out of the postseason for violating the financial aid rules of the conference. In 2013 the University of San Diego withdrew from postseason consideration after discovering violations regarding financial aid provided to football players. San Diego, the FCS program previously coached by Michigan head coach Jim Harbaugh before he accepted a job offer at Stanford, was atop the conference at the time of the decision and projected to represent the conference in the FCS playoffs.