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Richt, McGarity back UGA's academic policy

MEMPHIS, Tenn. – Coach Mark Richt doesn’t take issue with a relatively strict UGA policy that resulted in tailback Caleb King’s Liberty Bowl suspension.

Caleb King will miss the Liberty Bowl after missing too many academic appointments.

Instead, Richt blames the player.

“It’s not the policy’s fault,” Richt said Monday. “It’s Caleb’s fault for not following through with his responsibility.”

King will miss Friday's Liberty Bowl against Central Florida as a result of a “Missed Appointment Policy.” Included in the Student-Athlete Handbook distributed by UGA and first instituted in 2007 by previous athletics director Damon Evans, UGA’s standards – which are in addition to the school’s policy for class attendance -- call for a suspension of 10 percent of game competition after five missed tutoring, mentoring or academic counselor or support appointments.

After a fourth missed appointment, the athlete and his parents or guardian are to be warned in writing that a fifth absence would mean suspension. The policy also calls for the athlete to reimburse the cost of each missed appointment (or $10, whichever is more) in a lump sum to be donated to charity.

UGA confirmed that a fifth missed appointment led to King’s suspension for Friday’s Liberty Bowl. The school’s tally starts over each semester, per the policy, meaning each of King's absences came during the fall of 2010.

“I’m not mad at the policy. The policy is good,” Richt said. “We’ve had it for years. In almost four years of it, we’ve rarely run into this at all.”

King was also to meet with athletics director Greg McGarity (or someone designated by McGarity), per school guidelines.

In addition to the policy for missed appointments, UGA also has guidelines regarding class attendance that call for a 10 percent suspension after three unexcused absences.

"It’s a strong policy," McGarity said. "It keeps people accountable. It’s there for a reason, to make academics important and to really focus on the top priority they’re here: To get a degree and maintain their grades and be successful in the classroom.”

Unlike UGA, which separates the two, SEC schools commonly include academic meetings into class attendance policies.

Alabama and South Carolina, for instance, use a point system each semester where absences from class or academic obligations accumulate points.

During fall and spring semesters at South Carolina, one missed class logs three points. Other obligations mean one point, and an athlete faces suspension when the total reaches 10.

However, a Gamecocks athlete can earn points back by attending study hall or tutoring, per USC’s policy. The same is true for a Crimson Tide athlete.

Alabama’s written policy uses positive and negative points, with one point issued for “A missed class, tutorial appointment, mentor appointment, counselor appointment or study hall obligation,” and suspension being automatic when the total reaches 10.

UA also gives itself the flexibility to award positive points for, “Demonstrating special effort in the classroom, putting forth extra effort in study hall or by meeting proactively with faculty members.”

Some are perhaps even less stringent. Asked for its class attendance policy, an LSU official responded, “We wish to advise that the LSU Athletic Department does not have a written student-athlete class attendance policy but does monitor class attendance.”

Meanwhile, UGA’s policy institutes fines, does not use points and appears to offer little leniency other than an appeal for missed classes or academic obligations.

“I just think it’s another way to tell our players, tell the players’ families, tell our recruits that we’re serious about academics,” Richt said. “We have a plan for them, and if they follow it, then they’ll be fine. If they don’t, they’ll have to suffer the consequences for it.”

McGarity said he's in favor of a stern policy for UGA and has no desire to alter the guidelines put in place by his predecessor.

“I think it’s a good policy," McGarity said. "I’m not interested in really changing it anytime soon.”

Two other UGA players – sophomore offensive lineman A.J. Harmon and freshman cornerback Derek Owens – also didn’t make the trip to Memphis for academic reasons, though they were deemed ineligible for not meeting NCAA standards.

In King’s case, this latest punishment means he will have missed three games this season because of suspension from the team.

“I definitely feel bad for him,” fellow tailback Washaun Ealey said. “He’s a close friend. Football is his dream, and it’s like college football is coming to an end for him. He has like one more year, and knowing he doesn’t get to play in the bowl game his junior year, it’s sad, knowing he’s back home having to watch us on TV.”

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