It might have seemed UGA’s push to get the SEC to adopt a conference-wide policy on punishing athletes for drug infractions had gone nowhere after it failed to even get a vote recently.
As Greg McGarity put it in an online chat this week, “At the SEC meeting in Destin, we proposed consistent penalties across the board, but our proposal gained no traction. Therefore, the issue is moot unless it is brought up in the future.”
He did add, though: “We will continue to propose this procedure.”
And in the media, at least, the idea seems to be finding some of that missing traction as the arrest on murder charges of former New England Patriots tight end Aaron Hernandez has brought up again the fact that while he was a Florida Gator Hernandez apparently failed quite a few drug tests but only ever missed one game on suspension — a far cry from the way things are handled in Athens, where one infraction gets you suspended for a game.
Over in Alabama, AL.com columnist Kevin Scarbinsky wrote that Hernandez “could be the poster boy for a league-wide SEC drug policy.”
Looking back at how Hernandez, an All American and the top tight end available, slipped all the way to the fourth round in the 2010 NFL draft, Scarbinsky noted that The Boston Globe reported sources with three NFL teams said the player fell that far because of multiple failed drug tests while at Florida.
The Globe quoted one “longtime NFL executive” who suggested that Hernandez had failed as many as six drug tests at Florida.
Florida disputed that report, with Steve McClain, senior associate athletics director, sending what seemed like a carefully worded text to AL.com: “I would go on record saying he didn’t fail six drug tests (at Florida).”
So, what, he failed five? Seven?
Regardless, he missed only one game for failing a drug test, suggesting some folks in Gainesville were looking the other way much of Hernandez’s career.
Florida’s certainly not alone in its vulnerable position on this issue. There’s LSU and its handling of the infamous Honey Badger, Tyran Mathieu, who reportedly said he “quit counting at 10″ when it came to how many drug tests he failed at the school. Finally, he was dismissed from the team, but prior to that he’d been suspended for only one game.
Meanwhile, last season Georgia had Bacarri Rambo and Alec Ogletree miss four games each for their second substance abuse infractions.
UGA’s policy calls for a suspension of 10 percent of the season (one game in football) for the first offense and a suspension of 30 percent of the season (four games in football) for a second positive. Kentucky and Mississippi State also suspend a player one game for his first drug infraction.
At all other schools in the SEC, a player who tests positive the first time does not miss a game. At Alabama and LSU, a second positive test forces a suspension of, at most, two games. At Florida, a second positive for marijuana results in merely a one-game suspension.
Georgia and nine other SEC schools dismiss a player after a third positive test, while Alabama, Arkansas, Florida and LSU’s policies call for a player not to be dismissed until after the fourth failed test.
Obviously, the schools with the less stringent policies gain a competitive advantage over those who are stricter. Thus, the lack of enthusiasm when Georgia proposed a consistent punishment policy.
Reader Jim P. pointed out in a recent letter to the Blawg that “It is a sad and disappointing fact that other SEC schools do not want to raise their standards to at least those of UGA and Kentucky. I am in favor of a uniform conference policy to the level of Georgia’s at the very minimum. And my opinion is not based solely on competitive advantage/disadvantage. UGA has proven a school can compete with stronger policies. Have people forgotten we are defending SEC East champs two years running? The truth of the matter is schools that do not raise their standards are ENABLING their student athletes when they are supposed to be helping them grow.”
No one is saying that use of marijuana in college leads to murder charges or that Hernandez’s problems are a result of Florida’s lax policies, but the school has certainly been embarrassed by fresh reminders of the reports he failed drug tests and yet only ever was suspended for one game.
As MrSEC.com noted this week, “a young man like Hernandez might have been better off if his school or his coach or — with a league-wide plan — the conference office had actually held him more accountable for his actions and delivered a bit more discipline. If he’d actually learned that his bad actions would carry serious consequences, maybe he would be in a better spot today. Ask yourself this: Did Urban Meyer’s decision to look the other way time and again with Hernandez help the coach or the player?”
Which brings us back to whether the SEC is likely to adopt a uniform policy. Unfortunately, that still seems unlikely unless Commissioner Mike Slive decides it’s in the conference’s best interests to get out in front of this issue (as he ought to). Then he might step in and start twisting some arms. Even then, Slive might have a tough time convincing some schools that everyone ought to be on the same page as UGA.
MrSEC suggested perhaps Slive ought to frame it as a “welfare of the student-athlete” issue.
That might work — assuming, of course, that the folks at Florida, LSU and the other conference schools balking on this really do care about their student athletes, and not just winning.
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— Bill King, Junkyard Blawg