ATHENS — Georgia athletics director Greg McGarity said Monday that the lawyer for football player Natrez Patrick was correct in saying that a probation violation did not fall under UGA athletic department policy.
That would leave open the door for Patrick, a starting inside linebacker, playing for Georgia in the Rose Bowl, rather than incurring a third strike under the school’s drug policy.
The background: Patrick, a junior inside linebacker, was charged with misdemeanor marijuana possession in Barrow County the night of Dec. 2. That charge was dismissed late last week. But the arrest triggered a probation violation in Athens-Clarke County, where Patrick had been charged with misdemeanor marijuana possession in October. C.R. Chisholm, the solicitor for Athens-Clarke County, said Friday that Patrick had incurred a positive drug test in the days after the Barrow County arrest, as part of a standard drug test in such cases.
But McGarity said Monday that Billy Healan, Patrick’s lawyer, was correct in saying that such a probation violation was not applicable to UGA’s drug policy.
“The answer to that is yeah. That is correct,” McGarity said during a conference call with reporters on Monday evening.
Healan, in a news release earlier in the day, did not confirm Patrick’s drug test for probation. Healan’s statement said: “A probation violation is not a violation of the UGA Athletic Association Substance Abuse Policy. This is true under the previous policy and under the policy enacted on September 1, 2017. As the University of Georgia Athletic Association is required to follow this policy, Natrez Patrick should remain a member of the University of Georgia football team.”
McGarity, asked about that during the call with reporters, reviewed the statement and again affirmed it.
“His statement is correct. It is true,” McGarity said. “And it would’ve been true under either policy.”
Asked again if that meant a positive marijuana test in this case, done as part of a probation violation, is not seen as a violation of UGA drug policy, McGarity said his “earlier comment stands.”
McGarity, in referring to “either policy,” was referring to the fact that UGA has revised its substance abuse policy as of Sept. 1. During the call, head athletic trainer Ron Courson said the revisions were aimed at “individualization” and treating substance abuse as a medical problem.
The penalty structure, however, has not changed: It is still a three-strike policy, with football players sitting out one game for a first violation, four games for a second one, and dismissal for a third.
Patrick served a four-game suspension midway through this season after the October arrest. A third strike would mean dismissal, but he was practicing on Monday.
Coach Kirby Smart, addressing the question of Patrick’s status at his Monday news conference, said this of the probation violation case: “The Athens-Clarke County situation with Natrez is a separate matter, and we’ll address it according to our policy once it’s resolved.”
Patrick has a probation violation hearing scheduled in Athens-Clarke County court on Jan. 11. Georgia plays Oklahoma in the Rose Bowl on Jan. 1, with the winner moving on to the National Championship Game on Jan. 8.
Courson said the process to change the policy began in 2015.
“What we tried to craft … is look at it in an individual basis, from a problem-solving standpoint,” Courson said Monday. “And every case is different. Every student-athlete is different. So we’re trying to use that same philosophy from a problem-solving standpoint. And that was the main reason to look to revise the protocol.”
Courson was asked if there was now more leeway to waive the penalty for a violation.
“It was all set up to try to individualize based on circumstances,” Courson said.
Asked how much input Smart had in changing the policy, Courson answered: “Zero.”