ATHENS — There are always those stories that receive plenty of hue and cry, become tinged with too much emotion, and yet still end up happily. The Rodrigo Blankenship scholarship situation very well could end up in that category.
Fact I: There was never much chance of Blankenship going on scholarship for the spring semester. Doing so would make him count against Georgia’s 2017 signing class, and it’s rare anyway for walk-ons to go on scholarship mid-year.
Fact II: There are eight months before Kirby Smart has to make a decision on putting Blankenship on scholarship for the 2017-18 school year. Whatever Smart said in that meeting on Monday, and however the family took it, if Georgia ends up having a scholarship available to give a walk-on, Blankenship (as well as fullback Christian Payne and long snapper Trent Frix) will be first in line. And while there’s a scholarship crunch right now under the NCAA limit of 85, the smoke is a long way from clearing.
In the meantime, it sets up to be a long, tense eight months for the Blankenship family, and Rodrigo’s outspoken father. The recent statements may not have helped much, but the father felt he needed to go public, and that was his prerogative. When Maurice Smith’s family went public last summer, it benefitted Georgia. This time it’s become an ugly public mess, but perhaps Rodrigo’s statement overnight will diffuse the situation.
This also needs to be said: Ken Blankenship, by all accounts, feels passionately about his son, and no one can begrudge him that. As for Smart, he feels he’s doing the right thing for his program, and he can’t be begrudged that either. Maybe there’s a lot of wrong going on here, but maybe there’s also plenty of right.
A few fans also have called out the media here. Normally it’s too complicated and boring to explain how the sausage is made on this side. Once in awhile, though, it’s good to let readers know how we do our jobs.
After the father’s statement was emailed out Thursday, was Rodrigo contacted to see if he spoke for him? UGA’s policy, along with most schools, is to request that media not contact players. Do we always adhere to that? Frankly no, we have to chase the news. But as for those asking why not check with Rodrigo to see if his father speaks for him, it’s not as easy as just picking up the phone and calling him up. And Ken Blankenship’s statement alone is newsworthy: He is the one paying his son’s bills, he’s not estranged from his son or anything. He was with his son in that meeting with Smart on Monday.
Back in November after the father’s original comments, I did ask Rodrigo whether his father spoke for him. Rodrigo’s full answer: “My father and I have had discussions about our financial situation. But I’m just trying to focus on the things that I can control right now.” Yes, he didn’t directly answer the question, and who knows if he would have again. But he did later Thursday night in his statement.
That said, an effort was made to reach out to the family after receiving the letter yesterday. In fact, there was a nearly four-hour gap between when this media outlet received the letter and when it was published. (And as a result, we were not the first to publish a story about the letter. But yes, ultimately we did.)
There are those who say that all this will ultimately hurt Rodrigo and his chances at a scholarship. I don’t know about that. Smart certainly doesn’t like all this playing out in the media. But I suspect there’s something else he’d hate more: Losing games next year because he doesn’t have a good kicker.
We can debate whether Blankenship should have to keep competing for a scholarship. He may have already earned one. But the read here on the situation is that going forward a decision will be made based on the hard facts on the ground — Blankenship’s ability and scholarships available — and not emotion.
After all the shouting, Rod the Kicker still might be one of those 85. It’s just going to take longer to find out.