Georgia running back Todd Gurley committed committed the infractions “over multiple years with multiple individuals” despite having received from UGA “extensive rules education."
Photo: UGA Sports
Photo: UGA Sports

Gurley, UGA players regularly warned about improper benefits

Georgia’s star tailback, out of action since Oct. 9, had two more games added to what had been a two-game suspension for accepting what the NCAA claims to have been more than $3,000 from memorabilia dealers for autographing merchandise over the past two years.

In issuing its ruling of a four-game suspension the NCAA cited the fact that Gurley committed numerous infractions “over multiple years” despite the fact he had received from UGA “extensive rules education about the prohibition of receiving payment for autographs” as a mitigating factor in the case.

Georgia football players are herded into compliance meetings so regularly that Brendan Douglas says he’s almost jaded to the proceedings.

“They give us lessons, I guess you’d call it, at the beginning of the year, at the middle of the year, at the end of the year, that kind of thing,” said Douglas, a sophomore tailback from Augusta. “They tell us what we can and can’t do. It’s one of those kinds of meetings where everybody’s like, ‘Ah, man, we’ve got to listen to this again!’ But we’ve got to pay attention to it, obviously, listen to them and do what they say.”

Douglas said the players are also handed paperwork at those meetings and they’re required to sign as acknowledgment that they understand NCAA rules regarding improper benefits. Dealing in autographs and memorabilia ranks prominently on that list.

Said junior tight end Jay Rome: “Everybody pretty much knows the rules. Compliance does a great job of mapping out what you can and can’t do. And if you ever have any questions about something, they advise you to come to them and talk to them.”

Therein lays Gurley’s trouble. Because he had been thoroughly educated on what constituted a violation, the NCAA said “additional withholding was strongly considered.” But it limited the suspension to four games because of UGA’s “due diligence in its investigation” and Gurley’s “full disclosure of his involvement.”

Gurley also will be required repay a portion of the money received to a charity of his choice and complete 40 hours of community service as additional conditions for his reinstatement. He would then be eligible to play on Nov. 15 against Auburn in Athens after having sat out 30 percent of the season.

UGA plans to appeal the decision and the NCAA said that would be reviewed “this week.” The Bulldogs depart for Jacksonville, Fla., on Friday and will play Florida there on Saturday.

UGA has declined The Atlanta Journal-Constitution’s Freedom of Information requests to review documents related to its investigation of Gurley’s relationship with memorabilia dealers and its application for Gurley’s reinstatement. The school cited federal legislation that protects students’ academic privacy.

Georgia coach Mark Richt, addressing an unusually large media gathering at his post-practice briefing Wednesday, said he had not heard of any updates.

“Not that I know of,” he said.

Richt said he spoke to his grounded tailback before the Bulldogs’ practice, which Gurley participated in.

“I’m asking Todd to stay in good spirits and stay in good shape,” he said. “And then the rest of us will be preparing to do battle against Florida.”

Gurley already missed the Bulldogs’ last two games against Missouri and Arkansas. No. 11-ranked Georgia (6-1, 4-1 SEC) won both games. Barring a successful appeal, Gurley will now miss Saturday’s game against Florida as well as the Nov. 8 game against Kentucky. His first game back would be Nov. 15 at home against Auburn.

Gurley, a 6-foot-1, 226-pound junior from Tarboro, N.C., was considered the Heisman Trophy front-runner when UGA first suspended him on Oct. 9. Despite missing the last two games, he still leads the SEC in rushing with 773 yards and eight touchdowns.

Freshman Nick Chubb of Cedartown has started the last two games in Gurley’s absence. Chubb rushed for 345 yards and three touchdowns in those games, a 34-0 win over Missouri and a 45-32 win over Arkansas.

Gurley’s ineligibility marks the second time in four years that a star Georgia player has been forced to miss games for accepting improper benefits via the sports memorabilia trade. Wide receiver A.J. Green also missed four games to start the 2010 season because an investigation revealed he had sold his autographed UGA Independence Bowl jersey to an individual with alleged ties to an agent for $1,000.

That incident and Gurley’s current predicament has sparked national debate over the appearance of hypocrisy in college athletics. Coaches earn millions and conferences billions from television agreements while NCAA rules prevent student-athletes from earning relatively modest amounts from their own signatures and likeness.

“We’re completely gypped,” said Georgia’s Rome. “That’s my name, my likeness. You can’t make money on your own likeness? I mean, what are you supposed to do?”

Richt, who earns $3.8 million a year as the Bulldogs’ coach, declined to share his feelings on the subject, but he said Georgia’s players are well-educated on what the rules are.

“We need to abide by them and if we don’t, there are consequences,” Richt said. “That’s just the way it is around here. My opinion is that when rules are broken, you don’t have control over the discipline. That’s part of life.”

Georgia was listed as a 13-point favorite over Florida before Wednesday’s ruling. The Gators (3-3, 2-3 SEC) are struggling under coach Will Muschamp.

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