NCAA Suspends Football Coach After Players Light Up Victory Cigars
Yesterday, the NCAA suspended Ferris State University head football coach Tony Annese for a future playoff game after two of his players lit up victory cigars in a smoke-free locker room after the team secured back-to-back Division II national titles this past December. The championship game between Ferris State and Colorado School of Mines took place at McKinney ISD Stadium, a high school football stadium located outside of Dallas, which has a strict anti-tobacco policy. In addition to the suspension, Ferris State was also fined $2,500 by the NCAA and charged roughly $15,000 by McKinney ISD for cleaning and repairs to the locker room.
Ferris State was fined for cigars before—in 2021, the school won its first national championship, held at the same venue, and proceeded to celebrate with victory cigars, which led to a fine from the NCAA as well as a warning.
The NCAA Division II Football Championship differs from the Division I College Football Playoff, in that it's a 28-team tournament compared to the four-team playoff seen at the Division I level. The suspension handed out to head coach Annese will be enforced on the first game Ferris State plays whenever it reaches the tournament again. While NCAA suspensions in college football are a relatively common occurrence, it's extremely rare that a coach or player is suspended for a future playoff game, rather than one or several regular season games.
The longtime head coach accepted full responsibility for the NCAA’s decision, noting in a statement Thursday that he stressed the zero-tolerance tobacco policy to his players leading up to the game. "I understand the concerns raised by the NCAA. Immediately after the game, while I was in the postgame press conference, the two issues cited by the NCAA were addressed by my coaching staff,” Annese said in a statement issued Thursday, which was picked up by multiple media accounts. "No matter how minor the actions may seem, young people need to understand that there are consequences for their actions. We will address these concerns and continue to have a strong, positive football program that represents Ferris State University on and off the field."
Annese’s sentiments were echoed in a statement by the Ferris State athletic director Steve Brockelbank, though he was keen to back his head coach. "I understand the concerns raised by the NCAA, and we accept the responsibility for our actions and we will work to ensure this does not happen again in the future. I support the efforts that Coach Annese continues to make to improve the football program for the betterment of the students we serve," said Brockelbank.
Ferris State did make an attempt at appealing the punishment handed out by the NCAA, but its request was denied.
College football fans know that this is not the first time that players have lit up cigars following a key victory. There was, of course, the Internet-breaking moment back in 2019 when Joe Burrow was seen enjoying a stogie on a leather couch in the locker room of the Superdome in New Orleans following LSU’s rout over Clemson to win the national championship. Then there was Tennessee this past season, who beat Alabama in a rivalry known as the “Third Saturday in October,” where a 60-year old post-game cigar tradition continued in full effect, from fans, coaches and players alike. Most recently, we saw Georgia Bulldog players lighting up stogies on the field immediately after their national championship victory at SoFi Stadium in California, headlined by quarterback Stetson Bennett IV who was seen with cigar-in-hand during a post-game interview.
In each of these instances, no fines or suspensions were handed out to the teams or players involved. Though NCAA policy strictly prohibits the use of tobacco during practices and games for all athletes across all sports and divisions. Additionally, each of the stadiums in question also have strict anti-tobacco policies. The main difference is these were Division I teams playing at professional and collegiate venues versus Ferris State, a Division II program, who played its championship at a high school stadium.
Ferris State celebrated its national championship this past Saturday, March 18, in their hometown of Big Rapids, Michigan, with a parade led by coach Annese. They’ll kick off their 2023-24 season next fall as they seek to win their third-straight national championship.
Read Next: Joe Burrow And The Cincinnati Bengals Celebrate Sunday’s Victory With Cigars