Georgia's alarming discipline problem

Georgia's alarming discipline problem

Published Apr. 3, 2012 12:38 p.m. ET

It is a recurring theme in college sports, but especially, it seems, at the University of Georgia.

An all-star recruiting class signs on to play for the Bulldogs; a solid core of returning upper classmen appears poised to take the program to the next level; expectations are at an all-time high. And then the trouble starts: suspensions, arrests, attitude and attrition problems that sweep through Athens like a cold rain.

The downpour started earlier than normal this year. Starting cornerback Sanders Commings was suspended for the first two games of the 2012 campaign when he pled guilty to simple battery and disturbing the peace after a January fight with his girlfriend on the corner of Broad and Jackson streets in Athens. Alcohol was reportedly involved.

Georgia’s other starting cornerback, Branden Smith, will be sidelined for at least one game after being pulled over at 11:30 at night in Headland, Ala. three weeks ago with a bag of marijuana under the driver’s seat of his Dodge Charger.   

This followed on the heels of three highly touted freshmen – defensive backs Nick Marshall and Chris Sanders and wide receiver Sanford Seay - being summarily dismissed for stealing from a teammate.

Not long after that, linebacker Alec Ogletree was suspended two to four games for unspecified rules violations. And, most recently, senior All-American safety Bacarri Rambo has been suspended for upwards of four games for failing a drug test.

Rambo claims to have inadvertently washed down marijuana-laced brownies with a cold glass of milk during breakfast on a recent spring break trip to Panama City, Fla.  

Rambo’s high school coach Alan Ingram told the Associated Press: “(Rambo) is devastated about it. He understood what’s at stake. He chose to come back to Georgia next year instead of entering the draft. He understands that he’s a role model here. He spoke to me about all the kids in the state of Georgia who look up to athletes. He’s embarrassed about it and just torn up about it.”

Probably not as torn up as Georgia fans who were expecting this to be the year. With a plethora of returning starters, a quarterback in Aaron Murray who has matured into one of the premier passers in the conference, another bumper crop of running backs, and a defense that was expected to rank among the best in the nation, Georgia had an opportunity to contend for the top spot in the SEC and, perhaps, the nation.  

Now, more than a third of the starting defenders will be on the sidelines for a chunk of the season.

“It robs some of the momentum that you’re trying to build and trying to create,”  Richt said. “It doesn’t destroy it unless you let it, but it’s just another thing that needs to be overcome.”

It is also a familiar and tiring refrain to the Georgia faithful. Two years ago, during their losing season, Georgia led the nation in player arrests.  Last year Rambo, running back Isaiah Crowell, and others were suspended for marijuana, but at least the Athens police blotter was void of any key players.  Now there’s this, another maddening hiccup in a program that seems to consistently take one step forward and two steps back.

Discipline is critical in any winning program, and Richt is doing the right thing by suspending those who fail to obey the rules. The question becomes: Why do these guys break the rules in the first place? Is the entitlement mentality at Georgia so pervasive that these athletes think they can get away with it?

“I hope not,” Richt said. But the spate of problems is recent years cannot be ignored. If there are cultural deficiencies that lead athletes to make these decisions, they need to be addressed if Georgia expects to contend in the nation’s best football conference.   

“The bottom line is that if there are things that need to be disciplined around here, we’ll discipline them,” Richt said. “We don’t treat a starter any different than a walk-on. We’ll discipline even if it hurts -- and it hurts sometimes.”