SEC Adds Behavior Policy

DESTIN, Fla. — Mark Richt made Georgia's football team one of the first in the Southeastern Conference to have a character education program, and he, as much as anyone, knows the limits of such a program.

At the prompting of SEC commissioner Mike Slive, the league's presidents voted here Friday at the conference's annual spring meetings to add a league-wide policy to try to prevent poor behavior off the field. Slive said he became convinced the policy was necessary in the last three or four months, a stretch in which dozens of SEC players have been arrested.

It's naive, though, to think that an edict from on high is going to put an end to bad behavior, Mark Richt said. Most college-aged men and women don't learn the right way from any class, he said. They learn the right way from going the wrong way.

That's how it happened for Richt, who was the University of Miami's starting quarterback before being suspended for a game during the early 1980s.

"I had somebody in my room I wasn't supposed to have," Richt said. "I lost the starting job basically, plus I wasn't playing very good. It was one of the greatest lessons in my life. When I realized that I was the one responsible, it was an unbelievable lesson. At first I wanted to get mad at the coaches, but they didn't do it, I did it. It helped me grow up. Who learns without making mistakes? You ever heard of trial and error? It's just the way humans are."

Richt has had to deal with the arrest of a slew of players since, and the Bulldogs haven't even been the baddest boys in the league. South Carolina and Tennessee each have had double-digit arrests recently.

The SEC's new policy is a partnership with Northeastern University's Center of the Study of Sport in Society and will begin in July as teams from that organization travel to every SEC campus to meet with athletes in what it calls its Mentors in Violence Prevention (MVP) Program. The SEC is the first conference in the nation to implement such a plan, said Peter Roby, the director of Northeastern's center.

"We're hoping that that will be an example for other conferences to emulate," he said.

The problem is not limited to the SEC, or even to college athletics in general, Roby said.

"It's not necessarily something that is specific to athletic culture but it's our society in general, the way we're raising children and the things they get exposed to," he said.

All of Northeastern's teams include former athletes to help relate to current college athletes.

"It's a discussion-based format. It's not a lecture," Roby said. "It's really about trying to engage the people in the training so we get their point of view and get them to think differently about it potentially. There are certainly cultures that get created with teams that can be negative or positive."

Still, it comes down to the fact that students are going to make some mistakes, Richt said.

"Parents have preventative measures," he said. "Don't their kids make a mistake? Don't their kids do things wrong? That's what we're here for, to steer them back in the right direction. Let's face it, we're all hypocrites if we say we haven't sinned or we haven't made stupid mistakes in our life, that if they were on the front page of sports, we wouldn't be embarrassed by it."

Richt is not an opponent of the policy. His comments came before the SEC began its discussion on the issue this week. After he learned of the idea, he was optimistic, but cautiously so.

"I would say I hope (it helps)," he said. "If there's anything that can help, I'm all for it."

Oregon State has implemented a discipline table, which prescribes specific punishments for offenses, but that action came only after a state senator threatened a bill that would establish standards for behavior of football players at state-funded schools. No Georgia legislators have suggested a similar action, according to UGA president Michael Adams, and it's very unlikely the SEC will expand its conference-wide approach to discipline, Slive said.

"We're all realists," Slive said. "You can only do so much but you can raise awareness and you can make it safe for young people to make hard decisions when the peer pressure on them is so extraordinary it's hard to resist it."

"I'd hate to stand here before you and tell you we're just going to let things like that go and not try to do something," Adams said. "I would prefer to make the effort and then let's judge the effect two or three years from now."

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