The Georgia Bulldogs may have inadvertently committed NCAA rules violations at “Dawg Night” this past Friday and I might have had a hand in it.
If so, it may change the way Southeastern Conference teams conduct their recruiting business.
As reported here Friday, the Bulldogs landed a couple of verbal commitments at their annual “Dawg Night” prospect camp. Offensive tackle Zach DeBell of Tarpon Springs, Fla., and long snapper Nathan Theus of Jacksonville each told Georgia coaches during the couple-hours-long workout that they intend to sign with UGA on national signing day next February. I covered the event and reported the news of the commitments on the AJC Recruiting Blog, as did numerous other media outlets on various Web sites.
After the camp, coaches, players and parents mixed and mingled on Woodruff Practice Fields as media members who covered the event — there were several more besides me — wandered about and snapped pictures. As I was leaving, I spotted DeBell and Georgia offensive line coach Stacy Searels posing for pictures. I can’t be sure, but I think DeBell’s mother was the initial photographer.
Seeing Searels and DeBell together arm-in-arm, I stopped and pulled out the trusty Canon PowerShot I had in my pocket and snapped a pic of the two individuals. Later Friday night I posted the photo on the blog I had written about DeBell and Theus committing and thought nothing more about it.
Then, late Sunday night, thanks to a Google news alert I received via email, I found out that Josh Ward of the website MrSEC.com is reporting that my picture may have been an NCAA secondary violation for Georgia. What’s more, he suggests that my very presence there Friday night may have been a violation.
I don’t know Ward, who also hosts of the “Sports Animal” talk radio show in Knoxville and writes for the Knoxville News Sentinel, according to his Twitter.com bio. But he may be right.
According to the telephone-book-thick NCAA manual, at least two rules are at issue:
“It’s possible it’s a violation,” said Eric Baumgartner, UGA’s director of compliance. “All the legislation [MrSEC] references is accurate. I’ll have to call the conference and see what they have to say.”
Baumgartner then questioned me about the context of the photo. I told him just as I have you. I noticed DeBell and Searels getting their picture taken and just obliged myself to do the same.
Baumgartner said he’d call me back with his findings.
As I said, there were many other reporters on hand – from Rivals.com, Scout.com, 247.com, ESPN.com and I don’t know who else — and I have seen online at least a couple of photos similar to the one I ran.
Meanwhile, I’m not sure how the NCAA would categorize the dozens of fans who were there snapping pictures, many of which can be viewed right now on Facebook. I’m guessing they’d probably have a problem with that as well.
In any case, if any of this is found to indeed be impermissible, then I think every team in the SEC is going to have to reconsider the way they do these things.
After Georgia’s “Dawg Night” on Friday, Auburn held on Saturday it’s annual one-day prospect camp, which was attended by hundreds of prospects and dozens of media members. And Florida has had enormous success with its heavily-covered “Friday Night Lights” camp, which recommences this Friday down in Gainesville.
Nevertheless, if Georgia has indeed run afoul of NCAA law due to “Picture Gate,” it’s not going to bring down the program. It would be considered a minor offense since it was inadvertent and trivial in nature.
“It would be a secondary violation,” Baumgartner said. “It would not affect the PSA’s (prospective student-athlete) eligibility.”