(Updated 8:40 p.m.)
ATHENS – The NCAA came down hard Wednesday on A.J. Green, ordering Georgia’s star wide receiver to sit out four games as punishment for selling a game jersey to a sports agent.
Green sold the jersey he wore in last season’s Independence Bowl for $1,000, according to the facts of the case stipulated by Georgia.
The school plans to appeal the NCAA ruling in hopes of having the length of the suspension reduced. The appeal could be heard next week, coach Mark Richt said.
Green was held out of last week’s season opener against Louisiana-Lafayette, pending the results of the NCAA investigation, which began in July. He must sit out the Bulldogs’ next three games -– Saturday at South Carolina, Sept. 18 at home vs. Arkansas and Sept. 25 at Mississippi State –- unless the appeal is successful. He will be eligible to return for the Oct. 2 game at Colorado.
“Certainly I’m disappointed with the outcome,” Richt said. “However, we have games to play, and that’s where our focus needs to be in the coming days and weeks. Other players will have to step forward, and I’m confident they will do that.”
Richt informed his players of the NCAA ruling shortly before Wednesday’s practice.
“He assured us we have the talent on this team to play with or without [Green],” tight end Aron White said. “We’re still Georgia. One player doesn’t make Georgia. That’s something [Richt] made very clear to us, that he still has complete confidence in us.”
The NCAA did not name the individual who bought the jersey from Green but said the person meets the organization’s definition of an agent -– “any individual who markets or promotes a student-athlete.” That put Green in violation of the NCAA rule against receiving benefits from agents.
Selling a jersey to a non-agent also would violate NCAA rules, which prohibit student-athletes from receiving money for memorabilia.
Green has donated $1,000, the amount he received for the jersey, to charity, the NCAA said.
The four-game ban is at the top end of the range the NCAA typically imposes for this type of violation.
The NCAA said it reviews each case “on its own merits based on the specific facts. Staff decisions are made based on a number of factors including . . . the student-athlete’s responsibility for the violation, as well as any mitigating factors presented by the university.”
In another recent case, the NCAA last week suspended Alabama defensive end Marcell Dareus for two games for accepting almost $1,800 in benefits from an agent. In that case, the NCAA said Dareus received a two-game ban, rather than four games, “based on mitigating circumstances.”
Green will be allowed to practice with the Georgia team during his banishment from games and, in fact, did so Wednesday.
”I want to apologize to my coaches, teammates and the Georgia fans for the mistake in judgment,” Green said in a statement. “I very much regret all that has taken place and the distraction that’s been caused. I’ve learned a valuable lesson and hope others can learn from my mistake. I can only focus my attention now on practicing and looking ahead to getting back with my teammates as quickly as possible.”
Green did not meet with reporters. Richt summed up Green’s reaction: “He’s hurt. He’s sad. He’s sorry for what happened.”
Wide receiver Tavarres King said the Green news was “pretty shocking” to him and vowed to help pick up the slack in the star player’s absence.
“I got to step up and make plays to fill the void for A.J.” King said. “Big shoes to fill. Huge shoes to fill.”
Green, a junior from Summerville, S.C., was named to preseason All-SEC and some preseason All-America teams. He is projected as a high first-round pick if he enters next year’s NFL draft, as most observers expect him to do.
Green caught 53 passes for 808 yards and six touchdowns last season, when he missed three-plus games with injuries. He caught 56 passes for 963 yards and eight touchdowns as a freshman in 2008.
Georgia’s appeal will be heard by the NCAA Division I Committee on Student-Athlete Reinstatement, which is comprised of representatives from NCAA member schools. Green cannot play in games during the appeal process.
As is standard procedural form in such cases, Georgia declared Green ineligible and the NCAA set his penalty and the terms of his reinstatement.
The NCAA informed Georgia on July 21 of the Green investigation — one in a series of probes at a number of schools into dealings between athletes and agents. Green said on July 22 that he was asked by Georgia officials if he attended an agent-hosted party in Miami that triggered investigations at several schools. He said he did not.