ATHENS, Ga. – University of Georgia president Michael Adams is sending a message to athletics officials that it's time to curtail legal trouble for Bulldogs players.
Adams said he addressed “the whole Athletic Association” on the issue in the past two weeks, including new athletics director Greg McGarity and football staff members.
“The message there is pretty clear,” Adams said, “and I think everybody’s in sync now.”
Georgia’s football program has had nine players arrested since March, with the most recent being a minor theft charge picked up by freshman safety Alec Ogletree the day before the season-opener against Louisiana-Lafayette. All charges were misdemeanors and more than half involved alcohol.
Three of those nine players – quarterback Zach Mettenberger, linebacker Montez Robinson and walk-on punter Trent Dittmer – were dismissed. Running back Dontavius Jackson transferred after receiving a minimum suspension for half the 2010 season. Ogletree, tailback Washaun Ealey and receiver Tavarres King were suspended for the season’s first game.
This came on top of the highly publicized DUI arrest in June of Damon Evans, who lost his job as UGA athletics director as a result.
“I think it’s a problem,” McGarity, Evans’ replacement, told reporters soon after his start date, “and it’s something we want to do a 180 on across the board. It’s really every sport, and I don’t like the excuse that, ‘Well, that’s going to happen (with) college students. That’s just part of the deal.’ I don’t buy that.”
The total number of UGA football player arrests since the 2006 season now stands at 33. Nearly half involved alcohol and all were misdemeanor charges.
“You don’t like it at all, but you’ve got to know that those types of things will happen, and then you’ve got to deal with them properly,” UGA coach Mark Richt said last week. “If it’s something that warrants that the young man doesn’t play on your team anymore, then that’s what you do.”
Asked if the punishments for the football’s teams misdeeds have been too light, Adams replied, “I don’t tell them how to do their jobs, and they don’t tell me how to do mine.”
“There are three Adams rules: You follow NCAA and SEC guidelines, you go to class and you stay out of trouble,” Adams said. “You don’t have to be Phi Beta Kappa, but you have to do those three things to play here. It’s an honor to put on the jersey that says Georgia. We expect people to represent us in a positive fashion on and off the field. That’s not an unrealistic expectation.”
The increase of arrests among football team members have coincided with an overall increase for the entire student population at UGA. From 2007-09, University of Georgia police reported 1,787 arrests, an average of nearly 600 per year.
The total number of arrests reported in 2008 by campus police climbed to 737, which was up from 243 reported by UGA police in 2000. Of all UGA police arrests in the past decade, 73.2 percent have been alcohol-related. Of that total, 53.2 percent (1,763 total arrests) were for underage possession of alcohol, a charge that often earns merely a citation – and no formal arrest – at many other college towns.
UGA police, for instance, reported 1,492 alcohol or drug related arrests from 2006 to 2008. Police at the University of Florida, which has a higher enrollment than UGA, reported 764 alcohol arrests during that same time frame. University of Alabama police reported 531 during those three years.
“You’re dealing with 19-year olds,” Adams said. “We have more (problems) in the general student body than I would like. But we’ve had too much in the football team. So we expect the coaches and the ADs to provide role models and leadership for their players, and I told the whole Athletic Association that.”
Beyond arrests, Georgia’s team is currently without the game services of star wide receiver A.J. Green, who received a four-game suspension when the NCAA found he sold a jersey for $1,000 to a person who met the NCAA’s definition of a sports agent.
“We’ve definitely had a lot of bad stuff happen since I’ve been here," junior tight end Aron White said. "I don’t think we’re a terrible group of guys. We’ve gotten in trouble a few times over the past couple of years, and we’ve kind of gotten certain labels and stigmas attached to us because of that. But I know all my teammates. I know they’re hearts. I know that none of them are bad guys."
While Richt didn’t defend specific instances, he responded generally last week to a question about problems with off-the-field trouble by saying, “lot of people that just get a little bit crazy sometimes thinking these guys are going to be perfect."
“All young people go through periods of time when they will make bad judgment,” Richt said. “I mean, all of us do. When we do that, it needs to be dealt with. But to think that these guys are going to be perfect and never, ever make a mistake is very unrealistic. … I think if you just grabbed 125 fraternity brothers or whatever you want to do and follow them around as closely as you follow our guys around, I think you’d probably find a lot of the same issues.”
Georgia’s coach also pointed to the increase in social networking and instant media as playing a role in the attention misdeeds now receive.
“They used to say you’re in a fishbowl back in the day,” Richt said, “but it’s that times 100 compared to back when I played. … I know myself personally, my gosh, if everything was recorded that I did in college, I don’t know if I’d be where I am today. I think there’s a lot of people that can look back on their lives and say, ‘Man, if that had come to light, that would have been awful, and who knows if I’d ever recovered from it.’”