The makeshift tribute to Todd Gurley outside Sanford Stadium, begun Thursday night as a candlelight vigil, represents a particularly partisan view of the star running back’s suspension for violating NCAA rules.
“I’d give my 1st born to see Todd play,” read one placard. Next to it, the obligatory “Free Gurley” poster.
But not everyone at UGA is ready to absolve the Biggest Man on Campus, whose tree-trunk thighs carried hopes for the school’s first national championship in 34 years.
“Everyone’s depressed,” said Megan Elcheikhal, a freshman from New York. “I think people are angry with the NCAA and disappointed in Gurley. He has a responsibility to his team and to the school.”
While students may differ on just how much of the blame falls on the junior who ranks first in school history in yards per carry and third in rushing touchdowns, a consensus seems to be forming:
The NCAA’s rules are unfair, but Gurley should have known better than to violate them.
“You’re told from high school what the rules are,” said Ashley Dennis, a senior from Jamaica. “He understood what he was doing. “
Dennis’ friend, Raven Gibson, placed more of the blame on a system that allows seemingly everyone but the athlete to profit off his name.
“It’s come up a lot in class: should (Gurley) be paid or not,” said Gibson, a senior from Scottdale. “He makes a lot of money for this school but he’s not entitled to any?”
Jared Magnuson expected more from Gurley: “I thought he was a better person than Johnny Manziel,” the Lawrenceville senior said, referring to the 2012 Heisman Trophy winner from Texas A&M, who was alleged to have also received money for signing autographs. The NCAA reached an agreement with A&M that cost Manziel one half of one game.
Gurley appears likely to pay a much higher price, with a source close to the investigation telling the AJC he may not play again this year.
“There goes the season,” said Magnuson, who held hopes UGA would play for a national championship before he graduated. “Everyone is shocked and angry.”
The school did the right thing by suspending Gurley, Magnuson and friend Caleb Chilton agreed.
“If he didn’t suspend Todd, he’d be making an exception,” said Chilton, a senior from Lawrenceville. “That shows there’s a higher standard for this team, and I’m glad to see that.”
Magnuson said he hopes the NCAA will change its rules regarding player compensation and, while he believes Gurley should be suspended, he’s “irritated” that other players accused of much worse have largely escaped serious punishment.
“Look at all the things (Florida State University star Jameis Winston has done,” he said. Winston was accused of sexual assault in 2013 but not charged following a controversial investigation by Tallahassee police. He has also been caught shoplifting and was suspended for one game earlier for shouting a vulgar epithet from atop a table in the FSU Student Union.
“And he’s still playing,” Magnuson said.
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