NCAA: Georgia RB Gurley must sit four games for accepting money for autographs
Update: The NCAA released a statement Thursday, stating that Gurley's four-game suspension will be upheld.
The rest of this post does not reflect this update.
ATHENS, Ga. -- Georgia was hoping to get Todd Gurley back on the field.
Looks like the No. 9 Bulldogs will have to wait two more games.
The NCAA announced Wednesday that Gurley, once a leading Heisman Trophy contender, must sit out until Nov. 15 for accepting more than $3,000 for autographed memorabilia and other items over a two-year period.
Gurley already missed the Bulldogs' last two games, and the school had petitioned for him to be reinstated in time for Saturday's Cocktail Party rivalry against Florida.
But the NCAA ruled that Gurley must serve a four-game suspension -- about 30 percent of the regular season -- and said it "strongly considered" a harsher punishment given the extent of the violations. The junior running back was found to have taken cash from multiple individuals, even though he received "extensive rules education about the prohibition of receiving payment for autographs."
"The university's due diligence in its investigation and the student's full disclosure of his involvement in the violations were factors in not imposing a more severe withholding condition," the NCAA said in a statement.
The school announced an immediate appeal, which will be heard this week by an NCAA committee that can reduce or remove the sanctions imposed by the staff but can't increase them.
After practice, coach Mark Richt steadfastly refused to comment on severity of the penalty. He said repeatedly that his team is only going to focus on "things we can control."
"When rules are broken, you don't have control over the discipline," Richt said. "That's a part of life."
If the suspension is upheld, Gurley would also miss a Nov. 8 contest at Kentucky. But he would be able to return for a Southeastern Conference showdown in Athens against No. 4 Auburn on Nov. 15.
"In determining the appropriate reinstatement conditions, a 30 percent withholding condition is consistent with precedent in similar cases," the NCAA said.
Former Georgia receiver A.J. Green received a four-game suspension in 2010 after acknowledging he sold a bowl jersey for $1,000.
The NCAA said Gurley must also repay a portion of the money to a charity of his choice and perform 40 hours of community service. The organization did not specify how much of the money he would have to repay or a deadline to comply with the rest of his sanctions.
Gurley's suspension raised questions about rules barring college players from receiving money for their autograph or likeness at a time when the major conferences are pushing to increase athlete benefits.
South Carolina coach Steve Spurrier said he believes football and basketball players should receive up to $5,000 per year for expenses not covered by their scholarships, considering they're "bringing in big money for all our universities." But he's not sure about allowing players to sell autographs and other memorabilia while still in school.
"It's a team sport," Spurrier said. "I think it might alienate team chemistry if some guys are getting a whole bunch of money. The right guard will be like, `Where's my cut for blocking for you?' I think it ought to be sort of even. Most guys in the position to sign autographs are smart enough to say, `See me after the bowl game. We'll do business then.' That's the way we have to do it right now."
Gurley was suspended in the midst of a stellar season. He has rushed for 773 yards and eight touchdowns, returned a kickoff for a 100-yard TD, and even threw a 50-yard pass -- Georgia's longest completion of the season.
Yet the Bulldogs (6-1, 4-1 SEC) have done just fine without Gurley. Freshman Nick Chubb starred in a 34-0 rout of Missouri and a 45-32 victory at Arkansas, combining for 68 carries, 345 yards and three touchdowns.
When the school applied for his reinstatement last week, Gurley released a statement saying he took "full responsibility for the mistakes I made." His attorney, William King of Birmingham, did not return messages seeking comment Wednesday.
Richt said he expects Gurley to return for the final three games of the regular season, plus any playoff or bowl games. There were reports suggesting Gurley would be better off at this point dropping out of school and preparing for next year's NFL draft, when he is widely expected to be one of the top picks.
"I don't think there's any doubt Todd is going to finish with honor and have a great finish to his career here at Georgia, whenever it ends," Richt said.
Gurley has continued to practice with the Bulldogs during his suspension, though Chubb gets the bulk of the work with the first-teamers.
Embattled Florida coach Will Muschamp said the Gators (3-3, 2-3) would continue preparing for Saturday's game the same way, even though Gurley has been ruled out.
"He's an outstanding football player, as good a player as there is in college football, maybe one of the best who's ever played in our league," Muschamp said. "But Nick is a good player, too."