In a world where games are played but nobody keeps score, this number would matter: Georgia had eight football players arrested over the offseason in 2008 and has had eight more in 2010.
In the real world, these numbers matter more: Mark Richt is 90-27 as Georgia’s coach.
Tailback Washaun Ealey was arrested early Friday on misdemeanor charges of hitting a parked car and leaving the scene, and also for that staple Bulldog indiscretion — driving with a suspended license. (Ealey also faces a warrant for failing to appear in court earlier this month on speeding and tag violations.) This arrest, it must be noted, all but clinches the uncoveted Fulmer Cup for UGA.
The Fulmer Cup was created by Spencer Hall of the Florida-friendly website EDSBS.com. Named after former Tennessee coach Phillip Fulmer, whose Vols had a knack for the extracurricular, the Fulmer Cup recognizes the program with the most arrests in a given offseason. Before Friday, Georgia was tied with Minnesota with a week remaining; Ealey’s arrest makes the Bulldogs the leaders in the figurative clubhouse. Or doghouse. Or something.
If your program is in position to claim the dishonor of being arrested the most often, your program is embarrassing itself and its university. But embarrassment isn’t to be confused with humiliation. Reading about a player’s arrest on a Friday in August is embarrassing; losing to Georgia Tech on an autumnal Saturday is humiliating.
No, that’s not how it should be, but that’s the way it is. Richt won’t get fired if a player gets hauled off to jail for hitting a parked car in the middle of the night. He’ll only get fired if he loses a bunch of big games. Yes, Georgia went 8-5 last season, Richt’s worst, but he’s 50-22 against SEC opponents and 21-15 against the Bulldogs’ four biggest rivals.
Even in a lesser season, Richt’s Bulldogs filled Sanford Stadium and played on national TV and went to a bowl. (Shreveport still counts.) For all their off-the-field indiscretions, Richt’s Bulldogs haven’t stopped minting money for the Athletics Association. And money, as you might have heard, talks.
To be a big-time college coach is to be disingenuous. You can say, “We’re only interested in would-be saints,” but we all know that’s bunk. Richt isn’t signing Justin Bieber to play linebacker. Neither would Julliard offer a scholarship to a model citizen who can’t carry a tune in a bucket. Every big-time football program seeks athletic ability first.
The quickest way to curtail these off-the-field embarrassments would be to exercise zero tolerance: One arrest and you’re gone. That would also be the quickest way for Richt to fire himself. The cold reality is that a coach can live with Ealey driving on a suspended license if he gets 183 yards against Tech. The vast majority of Georgia fans can live with it, too. (Richt announced after practice Friday that Ealey would be suspended for a minimum of one game.)
And it isn’t just Georgia fans. Under Urban Meyer, Florida had 24 players arrested between 2005 and 2009; it also won two national championships. Under Nick Saban, Alabama claimed the Fulmer Cup in 2008; it took the BCS title in 2009.
Georgia’s arrests are as much a reflection of Richt the Recruiter as of Richt the Disciplinarian. Rule of thumb: If you sign a player you consider a risk, you’ll eventually discover why. But Richt doesn’t coach intramurals — he works in the cutthroat SEC, and if Georgia doesn’t take a big-time talent who’s not quite a big-time citizen, the school in the next state will. If you’re going to play at this level, you play to win. Or else you get fired and somebody else gets to try.
Yes, there are limits to an administration’s patience, but Richt hasn’t neared those limits. Oklahoma winked at the excesses of Barry Switzer’s program for years, and only after quarterback Charles Thompson appeared on the cover of Sports Illustrated in an orange jumpsuit — he’d been arrested for selling cocaine — did the Sooner brass find religion.
Georgia under Richt, we must stipulate, is nothing like OU under Switzer. The Bulldogs aren’t, as SI had it, “terrorizing their campus.” They’re simply embarrassing UGA. But there’s a chance Georgia might win in Jacksonville this October, and you’d be amazed — actually, you wouldn’t — how much embarrassment fans can bear if in the end they get to crow over a fallen Gator.