Let’s start with this: The NCAA long ago was exposed as an archaic, dishonest and generally useless organization. Their leaders preached the importance of academics but sold their souls and the likenesses of “amateur” athletes to TV networks and memorabilia corporations and video-game companies without a thought of, you know, compensating them for it.
The NCAA’s belief: 18-to-22-year-olds should be happy with scholarships and meal money. The cash will flow elsewhere. They were convicted in the court of public opinion long ago. Their relative thievery has been confirmed in an actual courtroom, most recently in August when a federal judge ruled against them in the landmark Ed O’Bannon anti-trust class action suit.
Now that we’ve established the true bad guys in this, it’s important to understand one thing: If Todd Gurley did this, he’s wrong. If he signed multiple items for profit, be it jerseys or bobblehead dolls, he knowingly put his NCAA eligibility at risk. Therefore, he has potentially submarined not only his season but Georgia’s.
That’s not on the NCAA. That’s on Gurley.
“The rules are dumb,” is not a defense.
“I should be profiting off my name,” is not a defense.
“I’m ready to go to the NFL now,” certainly is not a defense.
“I’m obviously very disappointed,” Georgia coach Mark Richt said in a statement. “The important thing for our team is to turn all our attention toward preparation for Missouri.”
There has been no official declaration of Gurley’s status for Saturday’s game. But there’s a belief he’ll miss this one and possibly others — possibly all of the others this season.
Multiple sources told the Journal-Constitution’s Chip Towers that Gurley is alleged to have violated NCAA bylaws by selling memorabilia and/or autographs. A memorabilia website, James Spence Authentication (JSA), confirmed that it has certificates of authenticity for hundreds of Gurley-signed Georgia jerseys, mini-helmets and pictures.
SI.com reported that a person confirmed to Georgia’s compliance office this week that he paid Gurley $400 to sign 80 items on campus in the spring.
If that’s true and Gurley was compensated only $5 per autograph, he was undervaluing himself. Consider: As of Thursday night, the university was still selling Gurley’s No. 3 jerseys on GeorgiaDogs.com for $134.95 (free shipping).
There are three possibilities here: 1) Gurley is innocent; 2) Gurley is guilty; 3) Gurley is guilty, but there won’t be a paper trail.
The Bulldogs and their legion of fans had better hope for Nos. 1 or 3 because otherwise their hopes for an SEC East title, a conference championship and a berth in the inaugural college football playoff might have just gone up in flames.
This isn’t a new story, either in Athens or nationally. In 2010, former Dogs receiver A.J. Green was given a four-game suspension for selling his 2009 Independence Bowl jersey for $1,000 to a North Carolina man whom the NCAA considered to be either an agent or somebody who markets athletes. (The fact that Green received $1,000 for an Independence Bowl jersey should’ve qualified him for an honorary MBA.)
Then there was Johnny Football Autograph Gate. Johnny Manziel, the former Texas A&M quarterback, was investigated for selling autographed memorabilia. The signed items were listed all over the Internet, and there were even photos that surfaced showing Manziel signing items.
But the NCAA could not find any evidence that he was compensated, even if it seemed obvious. Ultimately, they reached an agreement with the school to suspend Manziel only for the first half of the season opener against Rice for an “inadvertent violation” of rules. And everybody slapped their forehead.
We can’t be certain whether Gurley is out for five minutes or a game or a season. But this Georgia team has given every indication it’s best chance for success are with him on the field. In five games, he has rushed for 773 yards and eight touchdowns on only 94 carries (an 8.22 yards per-carry average). The Dogs rank 10th nationally in rushing, but 108th in passing with an apparently limited quarterback (Hutson Mason).
With Gurley, things were possible. Without him, the ceiling seems much lower.
Confirmation will come Saturday in Columbia. If things don’t go well and evidence proves Gurley’s guilt, don’t blame the NCAA. The rules may be dumb, but breaking the rules is dumber.
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Credit: Ben Hendren for the Atlanta Journal-Constitution