Georgia defensive end Bill Norton was cleared to played against Murray State on Saturday, just two weeks after he was jailed on DUI charges.
Such a quick return wouldn't have been possible a few years ago.
Norton, a 6-foot-6, 285-pound freshman from Memphis, was arrested by UGA Police on Aug. 25 and charged with DUI and two minor traffic offenses. Norton did not travel to Nashville for the opener against Vanderbilt on Aug. 31. But he dressed out for the Murray State game and entered the game in the second half, meaning his suspension was limited to one game. Norton did not record any statistics in the Bulldogs' 63-17 victory.
DUIs previously brought automatic two-game suspensions for football players, as they did for Jonathan Ledbetter in 2016 and Cornelius Washington in 2012. But the athletic association revised its substance-abuse guidelines just before the start of the 2017 season under the supervision of Ron Courson, UGA’s director of sports medicine.
“(With) drug rehab and substance-abuse issues, you need to look at it from a medical standpoint,” Courson told The Atlanta Journal-Constitution at the time. “I think in the past it was looked at from a disciplinary standpoint. But substance abuse is a medical problem just like any medical problem we see.”
Courson said at the time that coach Kirby Smart, then a second-year head coach, had “zero” input on the new policy.
Today, violators of UGA’s substance-abuse policy must attend alcohol- and drug-awareness classes, receive counseling and often are subjected to future testing and monitoring.
Athletic Director Greg McGarity confirmed that he was aware of Norton's situation and believes the terms and conditions are “appropriate.”
“We’re just following the policy,” he said.
McGarity said the Bulldogs’ substance-abuse policies are in line with the university’s and are intended to focus more on treatment rather than punishment. He said all athlete offenses are reviewed by what’s called a “comprehensive action plan committee,” which consists of the senior woman administrator, deputy athletic director, executive AD, and the faculty athletics representative.
“After an investigation and review of the facts, (the panel) will forward a recommendation of penalties to the athletic director,” according to UGA’s 2019-20 student-athlete handbook.
Support real journalism. Support local journalism. Subscribe to The Atlanta Journal-Constitution today. See offers.
Your subscription to the Atlanta Journal-Constitution funds in-depth reporting and investigations that keep you informed. Thank you for supporting real journalism.