ATHENS – It’s fair to start with this: There is no excuse for doing something wrong.
There is no excuse for stealing money from a teammate’s dorm room, just because you’re short of cash. No excuse for getting into a physical altercation with a girlfriend, just because there was an argument. No excuse for getting high, just because … well, just because. No excuse for exploring the cannabis culinary arts and eating Alice B. Toklas brownies, just because you were on spring break and you were hungry and, really, honest, pinky-swear, you didn’t even know that there was marijuana in them (uh, right.)
These are some of the reasons why Georgia coach Mark Richt has been suspending or dismissing players at an alarming rate lately – eight since January. This is when nobody seems to remember how many stars were by a recruit’s name on national signing day. Funny how that works.
Richt has a problem. But only part of it has to do with the fact that too many of his players are doing really dumb things. The other has to do with a somewhat unlevel playing field.
Georgia has a fairly strict drug-and-alcohol policy for its student-athletes, relative to most other universities, particularly those in the SEC. UGA suspends players for at least one game (10 percent of schedule) after the first positive test. A second positive test mandates a suspension of at least 30 percent of the schedule (or four games) for a non-controlled substance or 50 percent (six games) for a controlled substance or DUI. A third positive results in dismissal.
An examination of schools in BCS conferences by AOL/Fanhouse in 2010 revealed Georgia and Kentucky were the only two SEC members that suspended players following the first positive drug test. Only six of 68 programs overall do so (Baylor, Cincinnati, Miami and Virginia Tech are the others).
As a comparison, Florida has among the most lenient policies, with no suspension until the second positive test and no dismissal until the fifth positive.
How often and when, if at all, an athlete is tested also is up to each university. The NCAA, in fact, allows every school to set its own policy.
This is a problem. There needs to be uniformity among athletic programs’ drug-testing policy, not just within conferences but across the country. Anything short of that creates a competitive disadvantage for some.
Among those supporting the idea for uniformity is former Florida State coach Bobby Bowden, Richt’s coaching mentor, who was in Athens on Friday for a high school coaches clinic.
Bowden had a reputation for being soft in the area of player discipline when he coached. But he acknowledges he would have to be tougher if he coached now, saying, “I would have to do a better job of educating the young men, trying to expose them to things where they would learn some moral issues that maybe they missed in their home.”
He supports Georgia’s policy, but doesn’t seem surprised Richt is having problems.
“One reason at Georgia [that] you hear so many boys getting out of line is because they’re so dog-gone restrictive,” he said. “I know a lot of schools — I don’t want to say something I shouldn’t say – but [they] don’t have to drug test. If you don’t want your boys to be caught with drugs, don’t drug-test them. And some schools do that. If you have a strict program, the way our society is, you’re going to have kids [test positive].”
Asked if he supported a universal policy, Bowden said: “Yes. That would be fair. There’s no doubt about it. … Georgia needs to do what’s best for Georgia. And you’ve got to soothe your conscience that you’re not letting bad things happen just because you don’t think somebody’s going to find out. But there’s an advantage if you’re a school that doesn’t test.”
In retirement, Bowden is able to laugh about some things he couldn’t before, such as when Florida State players were found to be receiving free athletic gear from a local sporting-goods store. Borrowing the line from his former thorn, Steve Spurrier, Bowden cracked, “You’ve all heard of Free Shoes University, haven’t you? I had a slogan on my desk: ‘This too shall pass.’”
That is all Richt can bank on right now. And maybe hope for a quieter summer.
By Jeff Schultz