ATHENS — Let’s not make this a referendum on whether marijuana should be legalized, nor whether Georgia should relax its rules on drug use in the student-athlete code of conduct. Both are complicated issues.
The question is whether something has officially — or at least unofficially — has changed in Athens. Two Georgia football players named in an incident report involving possible/probable/almost certain marijuana use in their dorm room last week following the Vanderbilt game were somewhat cleared Monday.
That’s right, neither Natrez Patrick nor Roquan Smith will be suspended for Saturday’s game against — tada! — Florida.
Welcome to the new world at Georgia under the new coach, Kirby Smart. Because while there is a little bit of a gray area involving the Patrick and Smith incident, the thought that neither player would have been suspended under former coach Mark Richt just doesn’t compute.
I’ll get to the specifics of last week’s incident shortly. But this was Smart’s response Monday when I asked him about Patrick and Smith being eligible this week, and perceptions that the school’s powerful football coach might exert considerable influence in situations like this.
On Patrick and Smith: “I’m happy for these two young men that they can move onto football and they don’t have to deal with the distraction. On the field, both of these young men have been exemplary and leaders, especially for sophomores.”
On Georgia’s policy and his role in these decisions: “I’m a team player when it comes to policy, and I believe in doing what the team theme is, which is what our athletic association has been so far. Do I think we live in a society that is a little different now than it was back whenever? Sure, I do. But I also believe in what we have and what we know and accept the rules that we’ve been charged with.”
OK, I call B.S. on that last statement. This is Smart’s team and Smart’s program and I’m not buying the, “I’m a team player” bit from him any more than I would buy it from Nick Saban.
That’s not me making a statement on the legalization of marijuana or Georgia’s policy, it’s simply my read on Smart’s belief in the policy and that he will do everything possible to circumvent it. Because he’s a football coach. Because he’s off the Saban tree. Because he’s determined to implement every facet of his agenda.
The Bulldogs are coming off a loss to Vanderbilt. They’re a 7 1/2-point underdog to Florida and losing the game would drop them to 2-4 in the SEC and 4-4 overall. To lose Patrick and Smith would weaken a defense in a game that Georgia needs in hopes of avoiding having its season jump the rails.
In Smart’s defense, sophomore defensive tackle Jonathan Ledbetter sat out the first six games of this season after multiple alcohol related arrests. (Smart never confirmed Ledbetter was suspended for six games but the player returned for Game 7 against Vanderbilt.) But the Ledbetter situation was more clearly defined than this one.
Neither Patrick nor Smith was officially charged or arrested. Neither failed a drug test (according to Georgia). But let’s look at some of the circumstances of what happened last Saturday night in room No. 422 at McWhorter Hall.
A residence assistant detected the smell of marijuana coming from Patrick’s and Smith’s room and contacted campus police. A UGA police officer wrote in his narrative, “I walked through the hall and detected a heavy odor of marijuana coming from room 422 as I passed. I kept walking to smell other entrances to other rooms but could no longer detect the odor of marijuana.”
(That visual of a police officer going door to door and smelling is not something I ever imagined “Joe Friday” doing. Anyway, moving on…)
The officer returned to the door of room No. 422 and heard Smith and Patrick talking. Then he knocked and, he wrote later, “The individuals inside went silent and did not respond to me. I continued to knock for about another 60 seconds before someone inside the room responded by saying, ‘One minute.’”
(Now what could the two players have possibly been doing during that time? Was any flushing sound heard?)
The two players opened the door about 30 seconds later. No marijuana was found. Patrick and Smith both denied smoking. But the smell of the drug lingered and among the things entered into evidence was a fake Arizona Ice Tea container with hidden compartment (see: Michael Vick’s fake water bottle in the Miami airport) and a “Green Smoke Buddy Exhaler,” a room deodorizer used to mask the smell of the drug.
The officer noticed a trash can with tobacco that had been removed from “Black and Mild” cigars. He also noticed towels that had been rolled up and stuffed against the crack under the doors.
I believe this constitutes strong circumstantial evidence. The only thing that would’ve made the case stronger is about 19 empty Nacho Cheese Doritos bags.
So yes, I believe Patrick and Smith are skating. There is precedence for Georgia suspending a player without a positive drug test. Josh Harvey-Clemons missed the first game of the 2013 season after he admitted that he he had smoked. But there was no admission by either player in this case. And so, both will play Saturday. Welcome to the new world.