When Mark Richt takes questions from the media on Friday he will no doubt be asked about the two offseason arrests in the last week.
It won't be the first time he’s been in this situation. Coming into the 2012 season he was asked about suspensions he had at the start of that season, but wouldn't publicly discuss – including four defensive starters. Last year placekicker Marshall Morgan was arrested for a BUI charge, but Richt didn’t address Morgan’s status going into the start of the season.
So Richt, unfortunately, has experience in this department. But he’s not in a unique situation. Auburn’s Nick Marshall still seems in limbo for Auburn’s season opener with Arkansas - Jonathan Mincy, too. Auburn coach Gus Malzahn said at Media Days that both will be punished, but didn’t say how, or if either would miss game time.
“Jonathan Mincy, very similar to Nick, he's a senior, we have high expectations for him," Malzahn said. “He made a mistake, and he will suffer the consequences also for his actions.”
Richt hasn’t announced that Davin Bellemay, who was arrested for DUI on Saturday morning, will be suspended two games, but that’s always the case with Bulldog players who get charged with that offense. Richt also hasn’t announced that Justin Scott-Wesley will miss at least one game (and probably only one game) for his arrest earlier this season for possession of less than an ounce of marijuana (a little more on that in a minute).
Meanwhile, Alabama hasn’t said what will happen with the four players who were arrested in the offseason at Alabama. All four remain with the Tide. ESPN’s Alex Scarborough said of Nick Saban’s handling of the arrests: “As he has done with each off-field incident since last season ended, he insisted that issues will be handled internally.”
Will Muschamp didn’t suspended DB Jalen Tabor, according to Robbie Andreu of the Gainesille Sun: “Tabor facing no further disciplinary action from the football team for being citing for marijuana possession in May.”
You get the point. Different programs around the SEC handle things differently when their players get into trouble. I do know that’s a source of frustration at Georgia, but there’s not much that can be done.
Consider the amount of political jurisdictions in the SEC alone – there are 11 states in the SEC. There are 14 different counties for each 14 institutions in the conference. But every county isn’t like Clarke County – where the city and county combine services where there is one jail and one set of laws in that county.
Take South Carolina – located in Columbia, which is in Richland County. There are seven different municipalities in Richland County: Cayce, Columbia, Forest Acres, Arcadia Lakes, Blythewood, Eastover and Irmo. That’s seven different ways to implement laws.
Why is this a big deal?
Because, back to Justin Scott-Wesley and Nick Marshall, even though both players were charged with the same crime – possession of less than an ounce of marijuana – one was arrested (JSW) and one was ticketed (Marshall). So even though they were in the same state, the guy in Athens was taken to jail, and the guy arrested in Reynolds was given a ticket for $1,000. So if the punishment is not applied the same for the exact crime in the State of Georgia how in the world is the same crime going to be applied the same in all SEC jurisdictions?
In addition to that – it is very possible that JSW’s “ticket” for weed would have gone totally unnoticed by the press because of the simple way that the Athens-Clarke County jail report works. He would have been given a ticket, and likely paid it. No one would have never noticed his one-game suspension because he would still be coming back from his ACL injury that happened last October.
In Athens, quite frankly, it could not be easier to figure out if someone has been arrested. I can’t say that’s the same in other parts of Georgia. For instance, I knew that Chase Vasser had been arrested for a DUI in the spring of 2012, but it was unclear where he had been arrested – therefore there was no real proof that it happened.
We worked the entire summer to figure out if Vasser had, in fact, been charged with a DUI, and where it happened – because it wasn’t in Athens-Clarke County. So the search was on… we heard it was in Atlanta.
We called the City of Atlanta. Nothing. “Atlanta” is very big – that could mean Stone Mountain, DeKalb County, Pine Lake, Buford, Fulton County, Cobb County, Decatur, College Park – there are 68 municipalities in metropolitan Atlanta alone.
68. There are another dozen or so counties. There’s also the Georgia State Patrol, which can arrest anywhere and go to court in that jurisdiction.
The point? Even thought we knew Vasser had been charged with the DUI, and even though we knew that he was going to be suspended for the DUI we could not find the jurisdiction that he had been charged in. So it went unnoticed until he missed the first game of the season. Then he missed the second game of the season. Then it clicked with the media that something was wrong.
To this day I don’t know where he was arrested.
That speaks to how easy it is to spot players getting arrested in Athens – and how difficult it is to not find that out elsewhere. So when a player in Athens gets arrested – for anything – it is going to be reported; when a player (any player at any other place) gets arrested that may or may not get out.
Getting back to possible standard enforcement by the SEC... What happens if a player(s) go to Colorado or Washington and legally smoke weed? That’s another story for another day, but speaks to the difficulty of trying to apply a penalty to all players the same across the conference – it won’t happen.
So the schools of the SEC, as usual, are policing themselves. And it goes to the age old question I had in philosophy class so many years ago:
“Quis custodiet ipsos custodes?”
Loose translation? Who guards the guardians?
Short answer, and not in Latin: No one.
Schools do what they want to do in terms of punishment. For instance, according to AL.com, Auburn’s drug policy states: “the first penalty for a positive test for marijuana includes no loss of playing time, weekly testing and counseling sessions. A second positive test includes suspension for 50 percent of a team's competitive season, and a third positive test results in being dismissed from athletic competition and athletic facilities.”
Georgia? A little harsher.
According to SI’s Andy Staples, Georgia, Kentucky and Mississippi State are the only schools where a drug offense is an immediate suspension. At Georgia the first offense is 10% of the season; the second is 30% of the season; and the third is a ticket to either Louisville or Auburn (joke); the third is a player being done at Georgia for good.
“The Bulldogs' substance-abuse policy is a prime example of the no-good-deed-goes-unpunished world of major college sports. Georgia tries to do the right thing by creating one of the toughest anti-drug policies in the nation, but that policy makes the Bulldogs the butt of jokes and could cost the football team wins,” Staples wrote in 2012.
“We're not worried about that part of it,” Richt said of the damages of suspending players. “We don't want our guys to do drugs. I don't want my son to do drugs. We've got policies that are stronger, maybe, than some when it comes to the punitive part of it. 'Well, Georgia ends up suspending guys sooner,' which I've got no problem with. But we've got the ability to get them counseling and make sure they're healthy. I think every university has the right to decide what's in the best interest of their student-athletes. We at Georgia have got our policies there for a reason. We don't want guys to get into that type of thing. When a guy makes a mistake, you want to stick him. You want to hopefully have a discipline that would teach a lesson and be painful enough to where they wouldn't want to do it in the future. I don't think there will ever come a time in college football where everybody has a uniform policy in those issues. But I do think we're doing the right thing for Georgia. Everybody has a right to make their own decisions.”
One thing is clear – Georgia isn’t backing down from its policy on drugs or suspensions… even if it hurts the program on game day.
Now then. Let’s get into the more traditional What We Are Hearing.
Before anything else, the commitment and pending enrollment of Joeseph Ledbetter yesterday was certainly surprising. He didn't expect a scholarship offer from Georgia, but with about four scholarships not taken currently (Gilbert Johnson didn't qualify, John Taylor was dismissed, Shaq Wiggins and Tray Matthews transferred after the end of school) Ledbetter seemed to make the most sense in terms of awarding a scholarship at this time considering his brother, and, frankly, considering him.
One Tucker source texted me last night that Georgia was smart to add Ledbetter considering the circumstances.
"Georgia is getting a steal with the older Ledbetter," they texted. "He's a heck of an athlete."
Back to the trouble the program had last week... Usually when someone gets into trouble that brings up all sorts of questions about he internal disciple of the program. That usually brings the finger pointing to the strength and conditioning program.
I asked someone who has been around the program for some time, and not always eager to be happy about things, to give his take on the S&C program at Georgia.
“It’s a lot better than it was,” they said. "But not where it needs to be.”
That’s a criticism of what some see as dated workout routines more than players not working. Also, this is the time of the year where we hear where everyone has been “working hard” and “its harder than it ever has been”.
There’s no need for all of that. Guys work every season. Sure, there are some summers that are better than others, but the reality is that this season will go as far as the likes of Todd Gurley and his offensive line can take him.
And people should give Gurley time to work himself back into condition. He was severely injured last year. I don’t think that’s been made clear enough. He returned, yes, and he did appear the same. But he was not healthy in a way that you would want a running back to be in the SEC.
That’s where the return of Keith Marshall should help. Nick Chubb, Sony Michel and Brendan Douglas will help, too. But Marshall has shown that he has the ability to make game-changing plays in the SEC. The other players have not – at least not yet.
Gurley is not any different than anyone else on a football team – he needs to be pushed in order to better himself. That was simply not possible last fall. To be frank, I am not sure that he’s 100% right now, but I think he will be at the start of the season. He’s critical to the Bulldogs. I don’t think he’s going to be getting a ton of carries in the preseason scrimmages.
Here are the players I expect to “make an impact” in 2014 who didn’t play last year (or didn’t play much). It is biased on what I have been told. Actually, let me define “make an impact”. That means play. Don’t get your hopes up too high as this is an older Georgia team… this isn’t a team that needs younger players to come in and play well to win, but one or two helping (ie Todd Gurley in 2012; Jarvis Jones, Malcolm Mitchell and Isaiah Crowell in 2011) could go a long way to getting to Atlanta.
Malcolm Mitchell – Doesn’t need explaining
Shaq Jones – Quick, but not powerful
Isaiah Wynn – Will start somewhere on OL in 2015
Greg Pyke – Will be multi-year starter on OL
Jeb Blazevich – Looks the part, and seems to be doing well in the summer… look out TEs
Nick Chubb and/or Sony Michel – These two are the same person for me right now… the third string running back
Malkom Parrish – Coaches are high, but height is a concern
I will also be curious to see the latest with Rico Johnson, Jonathon Rumph and Reggie Wilkerson. Johnson and Rumph could be killer down-the-field threats if things come together for them. Last year folks were talking about Wilkerson as much as they are talking about Wynn this year until he tore his ACL.
Again, I expect there to be at least 30 signees in the class of 2015. A slew of them are going to be early enrollees. I expect August to contain at least two commitments for the Bulldogs – one on August 12th and one on August 16th. One of those will be a five-star prospect; the other a four-star prospect.
This class, which is ranked #8 as I type, should finish in the top five, and if things go the way the Bulldogs hope a top three finish isn’t out of the question. One thing that’s keeping Georgia lower in the rankings is number of commitments. The Dawgs have six fewer commits than the Vols; five fewer than Clemson; seven fewer than the Cocks; two fewer than Penn State; and three fewer than Bama, A&M and Auburn.
That Georgia will finish with such a big class means that they will get full credit for their top 25 players in the class. That alone will help push Georgia up the rankings, where programs like South Carolina with 23 commits, for instance, are getting close to maxing out how high they can get.
(Also, that Florida is ranked at #27 – one position behind Kentucky – shows how tough things are when your coach is “on the hot seat”)
One other thing to keep in mind about Georgia – just as a program – is that it is vastly, vastly different than what you last saw them on the rain-soaked field of the 2014 Gator Bowl.
I can’t think of a time in my career covering Georgia where there has been as much change. The move from Willie Martinez to Todd Grantham certainly came with change, but not with the amount of change that’s come with Jeremy Pruitt. I am including in that the amount of playmakers returning from some or season-ending injury during 2013.
If Georgia doesn’t look like it did in November of last year you will understand why this fall. It is a different program now, and has a different mindset. The puzzle pieces are there, and everyone knows it. The departures are significant, but not overwhelming.
"If the young DBs are players... we will do pretty well," said one insider. That's what everyone will be watching this August.
Mark Richt wasn’t just goofing around when he said he thinks Georgia will be at the top of the East by the end of the season. He seems, and it feels a lot like 2012 these days.