Guerry Clegg: Suspension is in Marshall's best interest

sports@ledger-enquirer.comJuly 12, 2014 

In another state, or perhaps anywhere five years from now, Auburn quarterback Nick Marshall would have been simply ticketed for excessively tinted windows and sent along his way, and that would have been the end that. And compared to the many egregious misdeeds committed by college athletes, Marshall's poor decision to allegedly smoke marijuana in his car while cruising through Taylor County, as charged by Reynolds police chief Lonnie Holder, was not much more than that -- a poor decision.

But marijuana remains illegal in Georgia. Therefore, Marshall should be suspended for the season opener against Arkansas and hopefully will be required to complete some life counseling before getting back on the field.

He deserves neither the scorn he's getting from Alabama and Georgia fans nor a wink and a pass from Auburn fans more concerned about winning a football game without their star quarterback than the well-being of a young man with his life ahead of him.

Either reaction is equally disturbing.

Will he be suspended? If you go by the letter of Auburn's drug policy, probably not. There is no loss of playing time for first offense of testing positive for marijuana. Voluntarily disclosing use of marijuana by the athlete to the director of sports medicine "or designee" constitutes a positive test. We're assuming this is Marshall's first offense, but since it doesn't carry an automatic suspension, there's no way to know that for certain. A second offense would mean Marshall would have to sit out half the season.

Even so, the head coach has the discretion to impose a harsher penalty. In this case, a one-game suspension by Auburn coach Gus Malzahn would be appropriate. Malzahn should be -- and I suspect he is -- bothered by the poor judgment shown by his senior starting quarterback. That's especially true given that Marshall is at Auburn on the grace of a second chance after getting kicked off the team at Georgia, allegedly for stealing from a teammate.

Auburn's drug policy also states the purpose for the policy includes "to safeguard the health and safety of the student athlete."

Marshall has one year of college football left. Then what? The NFL? Probably not as a quarterback. He could return to defensive back, where he played for the Bulldogs, or possibly move to wide receiver. He might play quarterback in Canada, which is not the worst way to make a living but certainly isn't the big payoff that the NFL provides.

So unless he winds up with a big contract, Marshall will join the workforce and hopefully begin leading a productive life. If all he takes from his two years at Auburn is the privilege of being the starting quarterback, then he and Auburn will have failed each other.

A suspension is not only in Marshall's best interest but also the team's. What if he has a second offense? All athletes are already subject to random testing. Now Marshall will have to undergo weekly testing for as long as the counselor, team physician and director of sports medicine deem appropriate, according to the policy. Losing Marshall for half the team's games midway through the season would be a huge setback.

They might as well get Jeremy Johnson some game-time experience early. Auburn can beat Arkansas with Marshall or Johnson at quarterback. Johnson is more of a passer than a runner, but he can run it well enough to keep defenses honest.

That does matter. What matters more is Marshall's well-being.

He made a mistake. He needs to pay a price. And then that should be the end of that.

-- Guerry Clegg is an independent correspondent. You can write to him at sports@ledger-enquirer.com

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