We should be getting used to this by now, but UGA fans rightfully have grown tired and frustrated over the carrot-and-stick routine fate seems to have in store for us.
As my son put it yesterday afternoon following the announcement of Todd Gurley’s suspension, Georgia is on a brutal run that combines bad luck with self-imposed pain from attempting to run a program with some integrity in a sport that provides no reward for it.
Choose your poison: When the Dogs aren’t playing shorthanded and losing because of self-inflicted wounds due to the school’s strict policies, or aren’t having victory snatched from their grasp by a fluke play, their star players run afoul of unfair, antiquated NCAA rules designed to enrich everyone but the athletes.
The past few years have seen a litany bound to make any Bulldogs booster wince: A.J. Green is suspended four games for selling his bowl jersey … A Georgia team on the verge of winning the SEC and getting to play for a national title has a pass tipped by an out of position Alabama player that falls into the hands of a receiver who falls down 5 yards shy of end zone. … A miraculous comeback victory over Auburn is lost by another tipped pass falling into the wrong hands. … And now, as the Dogs prepare for what could be the most important game of the season, their superstar running back, who just this week moved to the top of the Heisman Trophy polls, is suspended indefinitely.
And the list goes on for a tortured fan base.
Some fans are upset that Georgia went ahead and suspended Gurley on the eve of a major SEC East showdown, but Mark Richt didn’t really have a choice. Better to move on without Gurley than to risk having to forfeit games because you played a player under investigation.
The details of just what Gurley is accused of doing and how the allegations came to light are extremely murky at this point, with some revelations making a lot of UGA fans suspect a set-up.
But, set-up or not, if Gurley indeed took any money, he violated the rules, however unjust. And if you get caught breaking the rules, you sit.
Make no mistake, the NCAA rules on players receiving outside benefits are unjust.
Gurley’s not the first star player to run afoul of those rules, of course, and certainly won’t be the last. Johnny Manziel largely skated in a similar situation last season because there was no proof of payment, but Texas A&M was fortunate that the allegations against him surfaced in the preseason.
With Georgia’s luck, naturally, Gurley’s situation arises mid-season.
Whether it can be proved Gurley received payment or not, he’ll miss games and Georgia’s season and his Heisman chances may be shot by the time this is cleared up.
How long it drags on is the question, but I’m not optimistic. UGA’s sports administration is far too conflict-averse to come out and launch a full throated PR campaign to clear his name and pressure the NCAA to resolve things quickly, as A&M and Auburn have done in the past. That’s not the Georgia Way.
However, Greg McGarity should consider doing just that, if for no other reason than it might help to calm a fan base that is increasingly frustrated watching our rivals lap us while Georgia’s always-on-the-verge football program wastes once-in-a-generation talent. UGA’s usual “please, sir, may I have another” stance just won’t do in this case.
Back to Gurley. I believe it’s an obscene injustice that the NCAA and its member schools can profit handsomely off their “student-athletes,” but the players themselves cannot. It’s the players’ talent that’s selling those jerseys; they should get a piece of the action.
That said, the rules have not changed and Georgia’s players, like everyone else’s, should be well aware of that fact. As is American custom, Gurley’s innocence should be presumed until it’s proved otherwise. Still, if Gurley, having watched what Johnny Football went through last season, still went ahead and sold his autograph, he was extremely foolish and shortsighted.
This affair may well scuttle what was becoming an increasing likelihood of him winning the Heisman, but he’ll still be a millionaire this time next year.
The beleaguered Georgia fan base, meanwhile, has once again been battered by the proverbial ill wind turning what should be a high point — in this case, having the best football player in the country wear your school’s uniform — into yet another what-might-have-been.
THERE’S STILL A GAME TO PLAY
For Dogs fans, the temptation is to throw our hands up and say, “There goes the season!”
But as my brother Jon, the eternal optimist, said Thursday night, this latest turn of events presents an opportunity.
Nick Chubb, last week’s SEC Freshman of the Week, could make himself a Bulldog hero for the ages as he steps into the breach. Georgia’s best shot at handling Missouri’s formidable pass rush is to run the ball down their throats. With Gurley that seemed like a good plan. It’s still a good plan with Chubb.
But the Dogs’ reliance on the running game this season is too one-note for a team with championship goals, and this is also the opportunity for five-year senior Hutson Mason to finally step up and prove he can be more than a “game manager.”
And it’s an opportunity for offensive coordinator Mike Bobo to show he’s capable of game-planning around adversity and a quarterback with a less than imposing arm.
Finally, it’s an opportunity for Georgia’s “can’t get no respect” defense, which statistically is not as bad as it has looked at times this season, to rise to the occasion, as Erk Russell would put it. Mizzou’s Maty Mauk is the kind of mobile QB who gives defenses fits, but he can be stopped. South Carolina did it for most of a game, though the Gamecocks faltered in the end.
Leonard Floyd and company have the opportunity to do what South Carolina couldn’t get done.
And there’s the added incentive, of course, that if Georgia can beat Missouri, even without Gurley, it will be a major step toward making it to the Georgia Dome.
The odds are now against Georgia. But, sooner or later, our luck is bound to change. Right?
Between me being off most of this week and the Gurley thing, I haven’t had time to go through all the Junkyard Mail that’s come in. But, in the wake of Georgia losing yet another defensive back this week, I did want to get to this timely question …
Michael Ruffin writes: Dear Bill, So just who do we have left to play DB?
Michael, I put your question to UGA sports information chief Claude Felton, who responded with this list of defensive backs who have played in at least one game this season: Damian Swann, J.J. Green, Corey Moore, Quincy Mauger, Devin Bowman, Aaron Davis, Dominick Sanders, Tramel Terry, Malkom Parrish, Lucas Redd, Brendan Langley, Reggie Wilkerson, Kennar Daniels-Johnson, Tristan Askew and Devin Gillespie. Plus, Shattle Fenteng is injured.
As Richt said Tuesday, “We’ve still got enough guys to be two deep but we’re in desperate need of a great recruiting class in that area, I’ll say that.”
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— Bill King, Junkyard Blawg