WATCH: Georgia football scrimmage excitement overshadowed by awkward distraction
ATHENS — Georgia football coach Kirby Smart has developed a great deal of buy-in and loyalty among his players, parents, boosters and fan base.
But on Saturday afternoon there was some division and concern from some — not all — who support the program most.
Smart runs a very guarded, very secretive program when it comes to his practices and scrimmages.
That’s not good or bad, that’s just the way it is.
The Bulldogs’ scrimmage last Saturday was to be restricted to the members of the football team participating and their immediate family members.
There was a list, and each family had to specify who they were bringing.
It was as exclusive as it gets.
Even the Georgia Magill Society, which has donated tens of millions of dollars to Smart’s program, was not allowed to have members watch the scrimmage in Sanford Stadium.
So when reports popped up (and were confirmed) that Justin Fields was present at the scrimmage, there was confusion and hurt feelings.
Yes, Fields’ sister is on the Bulldogs’ softball team. But the softball team wasn’t at Sanford Stadium.
How much, if any, notice did Smart have Fields would be at the scrimmage?
Was it really an option to turn him away?
Difficult questions when you consider the background.
If Smart had allowed boosters, other former UGA players and more friends and families of the current players to be in attendance, Fields’ presence would not have created such a stir.
That’s probably something to consider for the head coach moving forward.
Fields was a gifted true freshman at Georgia in 2018, showing signs of talent even as he was learning the Bulldogs’ complex, pro-style offense.
After the season, Fields had a very public transfer away from UGA to Ohio State
That led to a great deal of curiosity about Fields being present at the stadium scrimmage, from what implications that might hold, to how his relationship with the program had or had not changed.
Many believe that Fields’ lawyer, Thomas Mars, helped get Fields’ immediate eligibility at Ohio State by claiming his decision to leave Georgia was triggered by an NCAA Division I Council guideline related to circumstances that would “directly impact the health, safety and well-being of the student-athlete.”
There had been a much-publicized incident of a former UGA baseball player using a racial epithet in reference to Fields during a 2018 football game, when the former player suggested Fields be entered into the game.
Fields, once at Ohio State and with immediate eligibility granted, said he had no regrets about his time at Georgia or hard feelings toward the football program.
Fields’ lawyer did what he had to do to get his client immediate eligibility. Fields said what he had to say to smooth things over and move on.
The unintended consequence for Fields and Georgia is they are forever linked by the transfer and the case for his immediate eligibility.
ESPN’s Chris Fowler said at the time it would open up “Pandora’s Box” for transfers, and that seems to have proven to be the case.
So it was that Fields’ presence at the scrimmage — no doubt of innocent intent — made national headlines and served as a distraction of sorts.
There will be another scrimmage next Saturday, and more Georgia football storylines ahead.
Last Saturday’s scrimmage, however, will be remembered more for who was watching from within Sanford Stadium than who was on the field playing.