Georgia’s fight on drug policy appears dead

semerson@macon.comMay 29, 2014 

DESTIN, Fla. -- It was last year that Mark Richt stood up and defended the island that Georgia puts itself when it comes to its drug policy.

Standing before a crowd of Bulldogs fans, the head football coach rose and threw down the mantle, saying, “I’d love if everybody had the same level playing ground. That would be great. But I don’t think we should go towards them to get a level playing field. I’d rather they come to us.”

That hasn’t happened. And it is increasingly clear that it won’t, at least in the foreseeable future.

There were many issues discussed the first three days of SEC meetings this week. A uniform drug policy for the SEC was not one of them.

“Never came up,” Richt said as he prepared to go home Wednesday afternoon.

Georgia athletics director Greg McGarity was asked if it was a dead issue.

“Yes,” he said.

Georgia president Jere Morehead vowed last year to push the issue with his counterparts at a meeting last fall. But evidently he got nowhere, just as McGarity, Richt and others did last summer at SEC meetings.

And so Georgia officially presses onward, perhaps the only SEC school to test and suspend players for a first-time marijuana offense. It has caused a key player to miss the season opener (and sometimes more) for at least three straight seasons, and receiver Justin Scott-Wesley, arrested last year for marijuana possession, should make it four when Georgia hosts Clemson in August.

Meanwhile, marijuana has been legalized in Colorado and Washington, and many of Georgia’s opponents either don’t test players often or don’t penalize them for a first offense.

But Richt is not wavering.

“I’ve never pursued anything,” he said. “I think people have asked me, ‘Would it make sense for everybody to be under the same guidelines?’ Yeah it would. But I’ve never sat there and said, ‘Hey we need to do this.’ I’m not going to the A.D. or the presidents and saying, ‘Hey we need to change this.’

“I love our guys, and I don’t want them to do drugs. And we’ve got a stiff policy because I love them. If it costs a guy some playing time, but it saves them a whole lot of hell and grief down the road, then I’m willing to make that trade off.”

The feeling is the same from Mark Fox, Georgia’s basketball head coach.

“Everyone has different rules. We’re all committed to the high road in that area,” Fox said.

The SEC does, in fact, have a drug policy, but it does not involve testing and suspensions. Every school is expected to submit a policy to the conference office, which must approve it, and has to stick with it.

Vanderbilt athletics director David Williams outlined the policy for his student-athletes:

• A first violation results in more testing and counseling.

“We may hold you out of so-and-so,” Williams said, not getting more specific.

• A second violation is 20 percent of games.

• A third violation is you’re out a year and your scholarship is taken away.

“And there’s no waivers on that,” Williams said.

Williams recalls that when the SEC debated a uniform drug policy last year, the biggest issue was how it would be enforced and who would enforce it. There were also concerns about whether the conference should institute a one-size-fits-all policy for 14 schools.

“Because then you’re now getting into our autonomy on how we should handle drug issues on our campus,” Williams said. “I can see where there’s a lot of thought where that’s something the university should have discretion on how they do it, as long as there is a policy and as long as that policy is written, followed and the SEC knows about that policy.”

So Georgia now moves on, seemingly resigned to its island.

“I’m not sure people have changed their minds on anything,” McGarity said. “I’m sure at some point it’ll come up again. But at this point I just don’t think any of the dynamics have changed within the conference.”

Friday’s agenda

SEC presidents are set to discuss NCAA issues and the coming autonomy of the five major conferences, including their own. They did meet Thursday but only discussed the SEC Network and other non-NCAA matters, according to Morehead.

It’s unclear how much the presidents are expected to decide, but the SEC is expected to continue pushing for some players’ rights, in the face of the Ed O’Bannon case and Northwestern unionization fight.

“I think we’re holding the fort,” South Carolina president Harris Pastides said. “If we allow this reform to fail, the next step would be to give up amateurism.”

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