Towers: Being lawful shouldn’t be a negative for UGA

UGA's police department is just one of several law enforcement agencies that patrol campus and the great Athens area.

ATHENS — Hopefully this will be the last time I have to write about arrests and discipline. It won’t be, but I wish it was. Maybe it will be for this calendar year at least, but I doubt it.

You may or may not have read the story posted on SECCountry.com and AJC.com that quantifies how many arrests football players from the respective SEC teams have encountered this year. If you keep up with Georgia, you’ll find it unsurprising that the Bulldogs “lead” the league with six arrests. I didn’t know that for a fact until reading the story but I could have guessed it.

As Seth Emerson reported during my vacation last week, this was the highest frequency of trouble(s) with the law UGA had endured since 2010. And, again, as many of you know, Georgia has had some pretty busy spans in that regard. But that’s where this whole deal gets a little skewed.

When comparing the 14 SEC schools — or all 128 FBS programs for that matter — it’s not an apples to apples comparison. For one thing, you’re talking about different towns and cities, you’re talking jurisdictions of different sizes and populations, and that means varying police departments with varied resources.

In that regard — police surveillance and protection — I’d say Athens is very, very strong. That is a good thing, isn’t it, a community’s propensity for enforcing the law?

Not everybody you talk to will agree about this. People will tell you that UGA Police and other local agencies are overzealous in their enforcement of the law. They’ll say that the local prosecutors and courts are too litigious in nature.

I don’t know about all that. But I can tell you that the law certainly is not applied equally everywhere.

For as long as I can remember, there have been accusations that “over there” at Bama, or Auburn, or Ole Miss — pick your rival — the police sweep these kinds of things under the rug. “Over there” they call the head coach first and let him deal with it, then they call in the high-powered defense attorney/friend of the program to come in and handle if the coach couldn’t.

Last year, ESPN did an expose’ on the questionable relations between the police forces and major football programs all across the country, including Florida and Florida State. So there’s some truth to that.

But let’s look a little closer at the “crimes” that are being committed by Georgia’s football players. The six arrests of Bulldogs consisted of Chauncey Rivers for felony possession of a controlled substance (a prescription pill in his pocket rather than in the proper container), misdemeanor marijuana possession and parking (and sleeping) in a handicapped parking space. Freshman Chad Clay is on their twice, once for the infamous BB gun incident and then theft by taking (somebody’s headphones). Then you’ve got freshman Julian Rochester (shooting BB gun in dorm), freshman Juwuan Briscoe (driving without license or wearing seatbelt) and sophomore Jonathan Ledbetter (underage possession of alcohol).

Rivers, who obviously has a serious substance abuse problem, was dismissed. So was Clay after committing two misdemeanors a few months apart. Ledbetter’s charges were dismissed.

So how does that compare to some of the teams ranked “ahead” of Georgia?

Well, Alabama had only two. Cam Robinson and Lawrence “Hootie” Jones were both booked for possession of stolen firearms, possessing controlled dangerous substance, possession of marijuana and carrying weapons in the presence of narcotics. The Louisiana-based prosecutor declined to prosecute for fear of upsetting their football careers.

Tennessee has had just one, but it was for aggravated assault and false imprisonment (Alexis Johnson). Likewise, Mississippi State has had only one (Anfernee Mullins), but it was also for assault, the “simple” kind. Kentucky had just one, but in addition to speeding their guy was also cited for tampering with evidence and trafficking marijuana because he was holding “between 8 ounces and 5 pounds” of weed.

Auburn had four but they were all for misdemeanor possession. Arkansas, Florida, LSU, South Carolina and Vanderbilt are reported to have no arrests. But, I must point out, LSU, South Carolina and Vanderbilt are in big, capitol cities with multiple police agencies spread across several jurisdictions. Somebody could get arrested there but, unless your cops reporter is searching for underage possession arrests, he’s not going to notice Joe Fivestar on the jail log. You know, if a tree falls in a forest and nobody hears it, does it make a sound?

I’m not going to jump up on a high horse here and say 18-to-22-year-old males should never get arrested for anything. That’s unrealistic. I get that. But I do think coaches should be held responsible for the actions of their players.

Don’t recruit knuckleheads. OK? Isn’t that what in-home recruiting visits and camps and all that stuff are about? Getting to know the kid and his family is paramount to knowing the character of whomever you’re bringing to your campus.

Too often I believe coaches are overlooking telltale signs of potential troublemakers because a kid is 6-5, 330 or he can run a 4.3 40. Too often I believe they sign them anyway knowing there’s an inherent risk. It happens all the time academically. Why do you think all these schools sink millions and millions into these academic support centers?

Most coaches now receive bonuses in their contracts for their players’ academic performances. Kirby Smart’s new deal includes one that pays him $50,000 if the football team outpaces the student body in GPA.

Well, this league is so motivated by money now. So have ’em get a bonus for NOT having anybody arrested. Or, better yet, dock ’em 10 grand every time somebody is. That ought to get some attention.

I know this: Kirby cares. I heard there was a team meeting after he had to give Clay his walking papers and that Smart went off on the Bulldogs. He was none too happy to have to deal with these issues, much as he was not at all happy with the headlines splashed across the Internet on Thursday and last week.

I was talking on the phone to the mother of one of the Bulldogs’ new players the other day, not long after Clay was arrested. She asked me, quite concerned and sincerely, “is this always the way it is at Georgia?”

“Yes, ma’am, it is,” I told her. “But that’s not necessarily a bad thing. They just take abiding by the law and discipline very serious around here.”

And that’s the truth.

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