Usually, when Stewart Mandel speaks about the Georgia Bulldogs, I don’t bother to listen; most of the time whatever he’s saying, about the Bulldogs, usually ticks me off to no end and therefore—to keep my pressure down and my good southern graces intact—I ignore any article where “UGA” and “Stewart Mandel” share a title.
However, this week, with the most recent dismissal of defensive lineman Jonathan Taylor up for media target practice, a question was sent to Mandel’s mailbag regarding UGA’s disciplinary practices—and for once, he wasn’t saying something that made me want to set stuff on fire.
Stewart, I am a new reader to your column, and I’ve enjoyed it since your move to Fox Sports. Keep it up. My question regards the University of Georgia’s seemingly routine spring suspensions that Steve Spurrier and everyone else seems to enjoy poking fun at. I am a UGA alum, and from what I have read and understood over the years, nearly all of these suspensions are not NCAA sanctioned, but are actually Richt’s personal choice. Is this more or less true?
— Kyle Cheesborough, St. Louis, Missouri
First of all, welcome. Tell your friends. Secondly, there are very few NCAA-mandated suspensions. The only way that would happen is if the NCAA deemed a player ineligible, either academically or for taking impermissible benefits, or, in the rare event a player failed an NCAA-administered drug test at a postseason event. Recent Michigan basketball player Mitch McGary garnered a one-year suspension for this very thing after he tested positive for marijuana last spring, so he turned pro instead. I’ve rarely heard of others. And everything else is at the school’s or coach’s discretion.
What doesn’t often get discussed about Georgia is the athletic department’s own rigid protocols that take many of the decisions out of Mark Richt’s hands. One failed drug test costs a player 10 percent of his season (one game in football), a second results in missing 30 percent. How strict is that compared to the Dawgs’ peers? Well, let’s just say that if the Honey Badger played at Georgia he may never have seen the field. Meanwhile, a DUI arrest necessitates a 20 percent suspension, which is two games in football, one game longer than most you’ll see. Even missed classes carry a preordained punishment; 10 percent once an athlete misses three in one course.
Of course, Georgia and Richt hardly get lauded for any of this. When he kicks a player off the team it elicits a whole new round of “Mark Richt has lost control of his program” jokes. Yet Auburn and Louisville take no such flack when they inevitably pick up one of those castoffs. I’m not saying Georgia and Richt should get a free pass. They’ve had an awful lot of athletes run afoul of the law the past few years. But when that happens, they more than most do genuinely seem to try to do the right thing.
For once, we agree.
The one thing I’ve always hated about the public perception of Georgia’s “lack of discipline” is that it’s something that goes unchecked, or something that Georgia can avoid by recruiting players with better character.
News flash: All of the young men that sign Division-I scholly’s aren’t choir boys; and a lot of them do a decent job of staying out of trouble until after Signing Day is over—you can’t weed them all out and your best hope is they’ll either become more mature once they’re under your supervision or they’ll learn to keep their nose clean via peer pressure.
Either way, you take a calculated risk, sometimes, in the name of talent and winning. Does it always work out for the best? Obviously not, but no one will ever be able to accuse the Georgia Bulldogs of not being proactive when a player runs afoul of the rules…and you’d be hard-pressed to say that about many other schools in the SEC or elsewhere.