SEC won't have league disciplinary policy

DESTIN, FL – Former Georgia linebacker Akeem Hebron can speak personally to the severity of the alcohol policy at the university he used to attend.

The Maryland native was suspended by the university for two semesters after two arrests for underage possession of alcohol. He will play the 2007 season at Georgia Military College. At any other Southeastern Conference school, Hebron probably still would be on the football team.

However, at Georgia, thanks to a revamped conduct policy involving alcohol and drugs, the decision was out of head coach Mark Richt's hands. Any student at Georgia found to violate the school's policy - which, for underage students, means any possession of alcohol – is automatically suspended two semesters.

An informal survey here at the Southeastern Conference's annual spring meetings revealed that Georgia's policy is the most punitive in the league. Some schools, like Vanderbilt, don't even have a written policy, but it's unlikely the SEC ever will institute league-wide disciplinary easures for alcohol-related matters, commissioner Mike Slive said.

Legislating policies and penalties on alcohol is not the business of the conference, Slive said.

"I would never say never, but it's not anything that we have discussed," Slive said. "Those issues are better handled closer to the ground than at our level."

Georgia strengthened its policy in September after the alcohol-related death of a student, and a recent study released by The National Center on Addiction and Substance Abuse at Columbia University suggests that Georgia isn't the only college dealing with alcohol-related tragedy.

From 1993 to 2005, the number of college students who binge drink (five or more drinks three or more times a week) increased 16 percent, the study found. Alcohol-related arrests of college students increased 21 percent from 2001 to 2005, and in 2001 alone, 97,000 students where the victims of alcohol-related sexual abuse or date rape, Columbia reported.

The National Institute for Alcohol Abuse and Alcoholism estimated that alcohol accounted for more than 1,700 deaths of college-age students in 2001.

And colleges with a strong emphasis on athletics like those in the SEC have higher rates of alcohol abuse, said Susan Foster, the vice president of the Center on Addiction and Substance Abuse.

"We've made a clear recommendation that it's important for schools to change the climate of abuse," Foster said. "Part of that is setting clear polices."

Still, Georgia athletics director Damon Evans doesn't think the SEC should set a conference-wide policy.

"Our job at the University of Georgia is to do what we think is in the best interest of the young men and women who go through the institution," Evans said. "I really can't say whether it's a disadvantage or if that's even what we need to be looking at. What we need to be doing is looking out for the wellbeing of the student-athlete, and if that's what we're doing, I have no problems."

Richt also isn't interested in seeing the SEC bring his competitors into line with his school's policy, he said.

Georgia "is where I coach, and that's what I'm going to live by," he said. "The bottom line is those are the rules, and we're going to abide them. I'm not complaining. Are we going to try to dictate what everybody's student body does across the league? I don't think so; I don't think we should."

NOTE: The league's football coaches voted against a fifth year of eligibility for football players and against an early signing period and passed those recommendations on to the athletic directors Wednesday.

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