Posted: Saturday, May 17th 2003 at 7:28am
Bad week for college football fans in Georgia
ATHENS - Spring is supposed to be a time of optimism for college football fans. Every game is winnable. Every player is a potential star.
But it's hard to get fired up about the offseason news coming from Georgia's football rivals, which spent the week in a tit-for-tat of embarrassing revelations.
On Wednesday, the Georgia Bulldogs declared nine players ineligible for selling their Southeastern Conference championship rings.
On Thursday, the Georgia Tech Yellow Jackets lost 10 players for the upcoming season because of poor grades, including leading rusher Tony Hollings.
On Friday, Georgia offensive coordinator Neil Callaway apologized for getting stopped on DUI charges, which led to him spending a night in jail and losing a month's salary.
Geez, when does basketball season start?
``It is unfortunate that the actions of a relative few can make the headlines and reflect so badly on a quality program,'' Bulldogs athletic director Vince Dooley said.
Just one day after Georgia held a news conference to address ``Ring-gate,'' the school acknowledged that Callaway was arrested in April for drunken driving and spent 24 hours in jail last weekend.
``I deeply regret this happened,'' Callaway said. ``This is the first time, and certainly the last.''
Head coach Mark Richt didn't have much time to savor Georgia's first SEC title in 20 years. Instead, he's spent the offseason dealing with all sorts of transgressions.
Last month, five players were suspended for the first two games of the season after being found with marijuana in a campus dormitory. This week, while much of the attention was focused on those who sold their rings, Richt also announced that four other players were suspended for violating team rules.
``It's disappointing,'' Richt said. ``But one thing that does mean a lot to most of these guys is the ability to play the game. Sometimes, that's the way to send a message to that player and his teammates that certain things are not going to be put up with.''
But Georgia's players aren't the only ones running afoul of the rules. Callaway was reprimanded by his boss and ordered to forfeit a month's salary more than $11,000 for the DUI conviction.
Over at Georgia Tech, they didn't have much time to gloat over Georgia's misfortune.
Running back Tony Hollings and defensive end Tony Hargrove were among 10 players who didn't fulfill their academic requirements, meaning they won't be able to play next season.
``This is a very unfortunate situation for these young people and for Georgia Tech, but it is an aberration,'' athletic director Dave Braine said.
Still, it doesn't bode well for Chan Gailey's second season as coach. Already, Braine felt compelled to send a vote-of-confidence letter to the Tech faithful, defending Gailey and the direction of the program after a 7-6 season that included a 51-7 loss to Georgia.
Now, the Yellow Jackets will have to make do with less.
He'll be joined on the sideline by starting defensive end Tony Hargrove, who had 49 tackles and four sacks last season. Another starter also was declared ineligible, but the school didn't release his name because of privacy issues.
``We will move forward,'' Gailey vowed. ``We're excited about the players we'll have on the field this season.''
The troubles at Georgia raised questions about Richt's leadership. While the coach has a stellar reputation, his team is tarnished by the actions of those around him.
University president Michael Adams issued a stern warning to the athletic program, saying his patience ``is exhausted over this continuing improper behavior by athletes.'' Then again, that statement may have been a salvo in his running feud with Dooley, who has sparred with the president for control.
Dooley sided with Richt, one of the most popular people in the state after leading the Bulldogs to a school-record 13 wins, a No. 3 national ranking and their first SEC championship since 1982.
``I have confidence in coach Richt,'' Dooley said. ``Part of leadership is integrity. He has that. Whatever bumps in the road and this is a big bump he'll do the right thing. I'm confident it will all work out.''
The nine players who sold their rings violated NCAA rules on amateurism, but their eligibility will likely be restored in time for the season. Richt vowed to impose his own punishment, which could include more suspensions.
One of the affected players, star receiver Fred Gibson, doesn't understand all the fuss.
``I could see if I took money from a booster,'' he said. ``I try to stay out of trouble. I guess trouble just found me.''
He's got plenty of company in this state.
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