HOOVER, Ala. –- Georgia coach Mark Richt and star wide receiver A.J. Green showed up at SEC Media Days Thursday morning, less than 18 hours after UGA received word of an impending NCAA investigation.
If Richt or Green is worried about what’s ahead, they weren’t showing it to the hundreds of reporters here.
Richt said he doesn’t believe the NCAA investigation will necessarily bring bad news for the Georgia program, and Green said he has “never even been” to Miami, scene of a sports agent’s party that has drawn much scrutiny from the NCAA.
Georgia officials were informed by the NCAA late Wednesday afternoon that investigators will come to the UGA campus to conduct an “inquiry” –- the latest in a series of investigations of possible improper benefits received by players from agents. Investigations also are underway at North Carolina, South Carolina, Florida and Alabama.
“I don’t know if it is [bad news] or not, quite frankly,” Richt said of the NCAA inquiry at Georgia. “I don’t necessarily think it is bad news.
“I’m sure they’re gathering information,” he added, “but we’ll see what they gather.”
Green, the Bulldogs’ top pro prospect, has acknowledged that he was asked by a UGA official on Tuesday whether he was at the agent’s South Beach party, which reportedly was attended by players from North Carolina, South Carolina and Alabama. Green gave reporters the same answer Thursday that he provided UGA on Tuesday: He was not in Miami for that party or any other time, he said.
“I’m not even focused on that,” Green said of the NCAA probe. “I’m just focused on getting ready for the season.”
He added that high-profile athletes know “you have to keep your nose clean” because people “are just looking for something to get you on.”
Asked if he is worried about the investigation, Green answered simply: “No.” He said Internet rumors linking him to the probe are “just random stuff, but it’s not a hassle.”
Indeed, Green and Richt seemed to enjoy themselves at Media Days. On his way to the plane that would carry him, Richt and two other Georgia players back to Athens, Green posted on Twitter: “Media day went pretty good…. I had lil fun while I was there.” And on his way out of the Hotel Wynfrey, a relaxed Richt stopped in the lobby to sign autographs and pose for photos for Bulldogs fans.
Green and Richt declined to answer most questions regarding the impending investigation. UGA associate athletic director Claude Felton said Georgia was asked by the NCAA not to comment on the matter until the inquiry is completed.
Asked if that restriction is difficult, if there is more he would like to say, Green replied: “It’s not my place to comment on that. I don’t feel like I need to.”
Richt did say that he doesn’t believe the investigation will be a distraction for the Bulldogs, who begin preseason practice Aug. 2. Richt said “I don’t know at all” when asked how many UGA players the NCAA plans to interview.
If a player is found to have received money or other benefits, such as transportation or lodging, from an agent, he could lose his college eligibility.
Asked if Georgia is concerned about having players declared ineligible at this point, Richt would not answer, saying: “I’m not going to make any comment about anything having to do with an investigation.”
Georgia is in a similar situation as at least four other college football programs that are waiting to see what comes of inquiries into current or former players’ dealings with agents.
The NCAA is investigating whether current players at North Carolina, South Carolina and Alabama violated rules by attending the Miami party. In addition, the NCAA is looking into an allegation that former Florida offensive lineman Maurkice Pouncey accepted $100,000 from an agent’s representative between last season’s SEC Championship Game and the Sugar Bowl –- an allegation that Pouncey has denied and called “absolutely ridiculous.”
South Carolina coach Steve Spurrier said Thursday that the Gamecocks player under NCAA scrutiny, tight end Weslye Saunders, “went with several players” on a trip to Miami.
“I guess the question is, who paid for it?” Spurrier said. “Who paid for what they did while they were there? When the investigation is finished, I guess we’ll find out about all the guys.
“I’ve talked to [Saunders] briefly. He told me he’s done nothing wrong. So we’ll see how it plays out.”
Arkansas coach Bobby Petrino, also appearing at Media Days on Thursday, said his program has not had any inquiries from the NCAA about agent issues.
“Knock on wood,” he added.
But Petrino said the relationship between players and agents “is a concern you have every single day as a coach.”
Said Spurrier: “Sometimes you just got to, you know, trust your players know the rules and can wait till after their final [college] game before they take the money. If you can get through your senior year . . . you can accept all the dough they want to give you.”
On Wednesday, Alabama coach Nick Saban lashed out at agents who jeopardize players’ college eligibility by offering inducements, asking: “How are they any better than a pimp?”
Richt, characteristically, was much more measured in his comments about the agent issue.
“If there was an easy answer,” he said, “we already would have found what it is.”