So far, this week things are going pretty much the way they usually do during the offseason. Georgia has had some players get in trouble — and, unlike a lot of other schools, hasn’t turned a blind eye or covered it up. And Auburn has latched on to another reject.
You could hardly ask for a better example of the range of moral stances in today’s SEC: Georgia turns in its own players to police on a matter that probably wouldn’t have seen the light of day on some other campuses in the conference, while Auburn hires a basketball coach still under a show-cause penalty from the NCAA for lying to investigators when he was at Tennessee. Was there ever any doubt that if the disgraced Bruce Pearl wound up at an SEC school it would be Auburn?
On the matter of the football Dawgs, you could practically hear the oft-practiced groan from the Bulldog Nation Monday night when news broke that starting safety Tray Matthews, defensive lineman Jonathan Taylor, defensive end James DeLoach and wide receiver Uriah LeMay had been arrested on multiple misdemeanor counts of theft by deception, right on the even of spring practice opening. Matthews, Taylor and DeLoach cashed checks twice, according to UGA police, while LeMay is accused of cashing his roommate’s discarded checks.
Once we got past the actual details of the alleged check-cashing scheme — and puzzling over how, if it’s true, anyone could be stupid enough to think they could get away with cashing a check twice in this age of computerized banking and accounting — the most appalling thing to me was that there actually were supposed UGA fans complaining about the athletic department blowing the whistle on its own players.
Ignoring the fact that covering up such a fraud would have possible NCAA and legal ramifications, these folks apparently think Greg McGarity, Mark Richt and their staffs simply should have looked the other way or taken care of the matter in-house without ever getting the police involved, as probably would have been done by some of our conference brethren.
Maybe those folks should be fans of one of those other SEC schools.
But as Richt noted Tuesday, “At Georgia, we’ve never tried to hide things. If somebody makes a mistake, we clean it up. We don’t hide it.”
No, UGA doesn’t have more discipline problems than other schools. It simply confronts the problem in a more up-front way.
“A lot of times what happens is a lot of our policies are stiffer than most people’s,” Richt said. “If you’re going aggressively go after certain things, sometimes your business becomes a little more public than you want it to.”
That, of course, means UGA gets more bad publicity than some other schools, which leads to ignorant knee-jerk reactions like the tweet by ESPN’s Kirk Herbstreit, who thinks Bulldog players “take advantage” of Richt’s “forgiving heart” because they have “no fear of the consequences.”
Obviously, Herbstreit hasn’t been paying attention, because in Athens, where Richt has kicked potential stars like Zach Mettenberger, Nick Marshall and Josh Harvey-Clemons off the team, the players certainly know that their actions do have consequences.
Still, the nagging nature of these recurring problems — which see Georgia open just about every season with key players suspended — is frustrating for many Bulldog backers. Why, some ask, isn’t Georgia more careful about signing players not so prone to get into trouble?
Unfortunately, there’s really no reliable way to predict boneheaded behavior on the part of college students. And it’s not just athletes who get into trouble. As Richt pointed out, if you took any group of 125 students and followed their every move with the sort of glaring spotlight that shines on high-profile college athletes, you’d probably see a similar rate of dumb mistakes.
Meanwhile, of more pertinent interest to Georgia fans is what Richt will end up doing with these players. Assuming the legal charges hold up, should these guys be treated more harshly than those players who violate the drug-testing rules, despite their alleged crimes just being a misdemeanor? After all, you don’t just accidentally try to cash a check twice or take your roommate’s discarded check and cash it.
Some multi-game suspensions and/or a dismissal from the team seem likely.
And as a proud UGA alum, I believe that’s the way it should be.
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— Bill King, Junkyard Blawg