When news broke of Georgia’s investigation into Todd Gurley for what FOX Sports learned on Thursday afternoon stemmed from whether the star running back accepted extra benefits for autographs or the use of his likeness from memorabilia brokers, the school anticipated that he would be sidelined for likely two to three games.
Georgia revealed in a statement released Friday that the school has hired an attorney for Gurley, who is suspended indefinitely while the school investigates an alleged violation of NCAA rules.
SI.com, citing an anonymous source, reported Thursday that the school is investigating whether Gurley was paid $400 to sign 80 pieces of memorabilia on the Georgia campus this past spring. SB Nation posted an email it says it received from a dealer who claims he paid Gurley thousands for autographing memorabilia.
As FOX Sports’ Stewart Mandel points out, the judge in the Ed O’Bannon trial had the opportunity to lift restrictions prohibiting college athletes from profiting off autographs and endorsements, but decided the NCAA’s policy was justified.
The NCAA requires schools to declare players ineligible if they discover possible rules violations. They can apply for the player’s reinstatement after the investigation is completed, which happened in the past with stars such as Cam Newton and Johnny Manziel.
"I’m obviously very disappointed," head coach Mark Richt said. "The important thing for our team is to turn all our attention toward preparation for Missouri."
The Georgia staff didn’t learn Gurley wouldn’t be making the trip to Mizzou until around 3 p.m. ET on Thursday, a source told FOX Sports.
Gurley, a junior, has been a force for the Bulldogs this season, amassing 773 yards and eight touchdowns in five games. He established himself as a leading Heisman contender with several signature games and moments, including a school-record 293 all-purpose yards in a season-opening victory over Clemson. There was also a hurdler-like leap over a Tennessee defender to pick up an extra 10 yards — a play that was shown repeatedly on national highlight shows. Last week, the left-hander surprised Vanderbilt by completing a 50-yard pass — Georgia’s longest throw of the year.
The Bulldogs began the season with plenty of depth at running back, but that has taken a blow in recent weeks with injuries to top backup Keith Marshall and freshman sensation Sony Michel.
Now, Georgia is dealing with the toughest blow of all.
Gurley is simply irreplaceable, a dynamic mix of speed and power that allowed the Bulldogs to keep winning even with a mediocre passing game. He has accounted for more than half of the teams’ rushing yards, and his nine touchdowns account for nearly a third of Georgia’s 30 trips to the end zone.
Freshman Nick Chubb, who ranks second on the team with 234 yards rushing, likely will step in to start against No. 23 Missouri this weekend. Sophomore Brendan Douglas is the only other back with significant experience.
NCAA rules violations often involve the acceptance of impermissible benefits.
Former Georgia star receiver A.J. Green was suspended for the first four games of the 2010 season after he acknowledged selling his Independence Bowl jersey to a former North Carolina player, who was regarded as an agent by the NCAA. Green had to repay the $1,000 he received, which went to charity, and the suspension dampened his final season with the Bulldogs. He went on to become a first-round pick of the Cincinnati Bengals.
Manziel, the 2012 Heisman Trophy winner from Texas A&M, was investigated before the 2013 season when reports surfaced that he had received money for signing autographs. The NCAA reached an agreement with the school for Manziel to sit out the first half of the opening game against Rice, with no finding that the player did anything wrong.
Gurley, who battled injuries as a sophomore, was on pace for huge numbers in what most figured would be his final season with the Bulldogs before entering the NFL Draft. He ranks first in school history in yards per carry (6.5), third in rushing yards (3,147) and rushing TDs (35), and seventh in carries (481).
He had rushed for more than 100 yards in four games this season, the only exception being a blowout victory of Troy State in which he carried the ball only six times for 63 yards. Gurley had a career-best 208 yards against Tennessee and was coming off a 163-yard, two-touchdown performance in last week’s victory over Vanderbilt.
"He’s been my Heisman choice since the season started," Georgia cornerback Damian Swann said after the Tennessee game. "I’m pretty sure he’s about to put one heck of a campaign together."