Daily Archives: February 27, 2017

The once and future Trent Thompson

What’s happened with Thompson at the time he was taken to the hospital last week and what may be in store for him down the road is pretty interesting, not so much for what it says about Thompson, but for what it might indicate about how the bureaucracy now interacts with the football program.

Read what Chip Towers now reports about how the police handled the incident.

The new report – notably described as “sick person” under “Investigative Type” —  is from Sgt. Seth Robinson. He is introduced as “a drug recognition expert and emergency medical responder.”

Robinson was on the scene and is represented on body-cam footage viewed by DawgNation. Initially, Robinson reports that he believes they’re dealing with a person under the influence of drugs. He cites Thompson’s “dazed state,” “red eyes” and non-reactive pupils.

“Based on my training (Thompson’s behavior) could be caused by drug use,” specifically, “narcotic analgesics,” Robinson writes.

Then Robinson stipulates, and the body cam footage corroborates, that Thompson doesn’t actually say that he took “OxyContin,” as was stated in the initial report. He’s asked if he has taken “any pain pills” and Thompson answers yes. Asked how many he says”two.” Asked what kind, he responds “yeah” only after Robinson mentions “Oxies.”

But it’s also important to realize that Thompson was virtually incoherent at this point and largely unresponsive. After determining that Thompson is a football player, Robinson and other officers are concerned that he may be suffering from a possible head injury incurred during practice or in a fight.

Eventually, though, Robinson got around to taking Thompson’s pulse. When he does he is “surprised” to find it at 120 beats a minute, which is “not consistent with narcotic analgesics.” And they learn from a call to Bryant Gantt of UGA athletics that Thompson is “on some medication” prescribed by team doctors.

Finally, Robinson makes a very significant conclusion at the end of his supplemental report:

“I advised Lt. Gregory that even though he admitted to having taken OxyContin that I believed at this point something else was also taking place and causing the medical emergency. … Based on the information we obtained from athletics staff and what was observed, I believed there to be multiple issues and without knowing exactly what he was taking a determination of exactly what was going on would not be possible.”

Again, this is from an employee of the same UGAPD that once arrested a player for refusing to give his middle name.  Has somebody kidnapped Jimmy Williamson and replaced him with a pod person?  Compared with past approaches we’ve seen with interaction between football players and the local cops, the humanity and professionalism on display there is jarring.  Don’t tell me that if this had happened two or three years ago, we wouldn’t be looking at a mug shot instead of learning that Thompson was struggling with a medical problem.

So, it’s worth considering what’s going on here.

Add to that what Thompson faces when he’s ready to rejoin the team.

One key component to all this will be whether Thompson can maintain his academic eligibility in the meantime. As we all know, student-athletes are required to complete a minimum amount of class credits toward their degree each year in order to remain eligible to compete in athletics. Thompson having to sit out spring semester has to be detrimental in that regard.

However, NCAA rules and regulations allow for schools to pursue a “progress-toward-degree” waiver to restore eligibility for competition. According to the NCAA’s official website, To qualify for such a waiver, “institutions must document the mitigating circumstances that caused the deficiency. A common circumstance is a student-athlete facing a serious medical issue or other personal hardship.”

Yeah, I know — UGA and NCAA consideration have not always been a winning combination.  But I will say there is some precedent for the school supporting its players in a medical context with the NCAA, as Ron Courson was dogged in his pursuit of getting Kolton Houston reinstated.  It will be interesting to see how purposefully organized the school is with Thompson’s waiver effort.

Maybe things really are getting better.  It’s not like stranger things haven’t happened.

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Filed under Georgia Football

Hard times in the SEC

Word must have made it out to Montana that the Southeastern Conference ain’t all it’s cracked up to be lately, ’cause Stewart Mandel is on the mother.

I’ve got to say a couple of the reasons he cites, like a new crop of head coaches he labels “overmatched”, come off as a bit leaky.

More recently, the SEC since 2015 has lost four head coaches — South Carolina’s Steve Spurrier, Georgia’s Richt, Missouri’s Gary Pinkel and LSU’s Miles — who had all at been at their schools for more than a decade.

Admittedly none of them went out on top, and perhaps that’s part of the problem. “LSU held on to Les Miles way too long. He was a dinosaur,” said Sallee. “Spurrier was living off Jadeveon Clowney and Marcus Lattimore at the end.”

Your point being what, exactly?

The intriguing argument Mandel makes is that Nick Saban has managed to pull off the neat trick that Bear Bryant used to accomplish in the days of 100-man rosters — sign your kids and also the kids the other schools would’ve signed.

Kiffin can recite old Rivals.com recruiting rankings. He knows that his 2010 USC class and his buddy Steve Sarkisian’s 2015 class both finished No. 1 — and that every other year between and after, Saban claimed the top spot.

“It’s just complete domination in recruiting — no one has ever worked harder at it,” Kiffin said of his former boss. “Defensive players, they all want to go to Alabama. Even if you have to wait a year or two to play, you know you’re going to go out and have a chance to play in the NFL.”

He cites the example of 2017 defensive end Jarez Parks, a consensus Top 100 recruit nationally who opted to sign with Alabama despite the fact he’ll have to grayshirt for a semester. Guys like that used to be suiting up for the other teams.

“We’d go to play last year, and we knew that no matter what, when we walked onto that field, our roster was more talented than every team we played,” said Kiffin. “If you accumulate all of the (best recruits), now you’re not playing against them.”

That might explain Alabama’s dominance, but it hardly explains why the rest of the conference may have taken a slide against the rest of college football.  As Mandel himself notes, it’s not as if SEC recruiting has collapsed of late.

The SEC has hardly surrendered its longstanding recruiting dominance. From 2009-12, SEC schools signed 16 Rivals.com Top 10 classes. From 2013-16 that number rose to 22.

If Saban robbed the SEC, then the SEC robbed somebody else.  So much for that narrative.

Wade through the noise, and you get to the one reason that makes some sense.  It’s the quarterbacks, stupid.

In 2013, the SEC enjoyed a modern high point at the quarterback position. Texas A&M’s Johnny Manziel, LSU’s Zach Mettenberger, Alabama’s AJ McCarron, South Carolina’s Connor Shaw and Georgia’s Aaron Murray all finished among the top 12 nationally in pass efficiency. Manziel won a Heisman. McCarron was a finalist.

Three years later, Tennessee’s Josh Dobbs was the conference’s highest-ranked passer … at No. 20. Only two others, Ole Miss’ Chad Kelly and Arkansas’ Austin Allen, finished in the top 30 last season.

“Last year was a lot of QB ineffectiveness, injuries and inexperience,” said Sallee.

Gosh, that wasn’t so hard, was it?

SEC quarterback play in 2016 blew chunks, to put it mildly.  Mandel kind of glosses past it, but lost in that passage is that Jalen Hurts, despite all the advantages that come with playing for Alabama — including being coached by Lane Kiffin — finished a middling 44th in passer rating.  I don’t mean that as a knock; shoot, Hurts was a true freshman playing in the SEC.  But it’s clear that the conference had a ton of talent and experience at the position just a few seasons ago that it lacked in 2016 (nor did it help that Kelly ran into injury problems).  File that under shit happens and watch to see if the next round of new blood at the position manages a better showing in the next couple of seasons.

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Filed under SEC Football

Today, in thought experiments

For those of you who believe that college football playoff expansion will do nothing but enhance the regular season experience by making it more meaningful, tell me how well you think the experience of this year’s Georgia basketball season would translate in that regard.

In other words, last year, if you were told the football team’s postseason hopes were still on life support before the Tech game, would that have been sufficient to keep your interest level higher than it would have been ordinarily?

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Filed under BCS/Playoffs, Georgia Football

Today, in whatever happened to?

Former Georgia linebacker coach returns to the SEC (h/t):

Former Vanderbilt linebackers coach Warren Belin has been hired in his old position, debuting at spring practice Monday.

Belin was the Commodores’ linebacker coach from 2002-09 under head coach Bobby Johnson. He will serve as the new outside linebackers coach under current head coach Derek Mason…

I thought he was a good position coach in Athens, but where I really thought he shined was with his special teams work.  Too bad Smart didn’t grab him as an analyst last season.

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Filed under Georgia Football, SEC Football

You mean so much to me, baby.

Give Bill King some credit.  He followed up last week’s piece exploring the fallout from the fans about the west end expansion project with another.

Still, last week’s Blawg about UGA fans feeling taken for granted as the athletic administration asks them for more money to fund improvements for players and recruits certainly prompted a lot of discussion over long-simmering frustrations about the game day experience.

Butts-Mehre provides the comic relief with its response.

Anxious to point out that the planned renovations to the west end of Sanford aren’t strictly about the comfort of players and recruits, the athletic department sent me more details about the fan-friendly aspects, with special emphasis on a significant increase in the number of toilets for women that will be available in that end of the stadium come the 2018 season, going from 34 in the existing restrooms to 88 after the work is done. (For men, the number of toilets will increase from 47 to 50, and there will be two considered “unisex”).

It also pointed out that there will be more “points of sale” for concessions (both fixed and portable). And, of course, the new scoreboard will be 33 percent larger and there’ll be that new upper plaza for mingling, or whatever fans do in plazas.

33 percent larger!  And you think Greg McGarity doesn’t care.

What he should care about is the steady drumbeat of responses King got from his first column that sounded like these.

Quite a few fans also expressed frustration with UGA’s athletic administration viewing them mainly as potential donors. Said Charles Hill: “UGA has a large fan base but they don’t treat them as an asset.”

Jay Unger, who gave up his season tickets in 2014 after 32 years of contributing, said he did so because he felt that “the fans had become low priority in the game day experience equation and my decision has been validated by a continuation of this disregard in the years since. I’m as big a fan as ever but I do it on my terms now. StubHub for a couple games and the rest from my easy chair.”

And I heard from another devoted super fan who didn’t donate to the Hartman Fund this year because of “growing frustration and dismay with the athletic department and how they don’t even care about our opinions or experiences. … I definitely still care about UGA and the athletics programs, but I’m just not emotionally invested like I used to be … and that comes from UGA not caring.”

It’s not what you want to hear as an AD, but, again, I remain skeptical there’s any real impact to this sort of apathy unless the bottom line starts to take a real hit.

That being said, for better or worse, the AJ-C isn’t a backwater, like a certain Georgia fan blog I could mention by name.  It’s got a significantly sized readership, one large enough that the athletic department felt compelled to respond to King’s article.  I don’t think McGarity can be shamed into making any improvements to the game day experience that he’s not inclined to pursue on his own in the first place, but I’d love to be proven wrong.

Unfortunately, I think Bill’s conclusion is an accurate summation of where most of the fan base lies.

What a wonderful part of my life the University of Georgia and its sports teams have been!

As my brother Jon, a former Redcoat, likes to say, “Once a Dawg, always a Dawg … how sweet it is!”

But, that doesn’t change the fact that I’d like to feel that we fans mean as much to the folks who run UGA’s athletic programs as pulling for the Dawgs means to us.

Sadly, I remain unconvinced on that point.

But not so unconvinced that the Hartman Fund contribution checks won’t continue to be stroked.  And therein lies the key to Butts-Mehre’s success.

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Filed under Georgia Football, It's Just Bidness

“We’re going to find out about the whole head coach control thing.”

The most interesting thing at this point about the NCAA investigation of Ole Miss is how most of the world, including me, has gone from thinking that Bjork, Freeze and Company would probably skate around any serious repercussions to the sudden realization that it’s likely a serious hammer is about to drop on the football program and the school’s athletic department.

How serious?  That’s the question.  The allegations are so numerous and significant that nobody has a real baseline of comparison from which to evaluate.

No one SI spoke to for this story downplayed the 15 Level I violations. A former committee member, who asked to remain anonymous, has seriously tracked NCAA cases for more than 15 years and couldn’t recall a case with that many. (Violations used to be classified as major and secondary, which makes comparisons imperfect. Now they are broken up from Level I to Level IV. Level I is the most serious). “In terms of sheer numbers, I can’t recall anything that matches this,” the former committee member said. “I just don’t recall anything that’s more serious.”

That’s almost a little scary, if you’re the school.

The other factor that puts the whole episode into uncharted territory is that the NCAA’s enforcement framework was radically changed a few years ago.  Ole Miss is the first school to be evaluated in the new context.

… In 2013, the NCAA introduced a new penalty matrix. (It did so with the not-so-subtle headline of, “Violator Beware.”) The idea was to make penalties more consistent, something like federal sentencing guidelines. (If you commit armed robbery, there’s a minimum prison sentence. If you commit a Level I NCAA violation, there’s a consistent punishment).

It’s not that simple, though, as the allegations the Committee finds valid will get classified as aggravated, standard or mitigated. And that nuance ultimately determines the punishment, which leaves a lot of room for variables. Not all of the alleged violations occurred after 2013, so the entire case may not even flow through the matrix.

A handful of cases have gone through the new matrix, but all the people interviewed this week didn’t feel comfortable using those cases to predict what could happen at Ole Miss. “The matrix is kind of baffling, and I understand penalties better than most people,” said the former committee member who asked to remain anonymous. “We have seen a few cases all the way through. We don’t have enough of a body of case law to make any statements or accurate predictions.”

Take a peek at the chart. It’s easy to see how with 15 Level I violations, fans of SEC rivals could project years and years of postseason bans. Alternatively, Rebels supporters could be optimistic about mitigating many of the charges and receiving little more punishment. No one really knows.

The only safe assumption is that this matrix, which the NCAA unveiled in 2013, is about to have its first heavy dose of public scrutiny. “Even with a matrix, you have undecided major issues that have yet to be litigated and decided,” Marsh said. “You still have human beings involved [in the Committee on Infractions].”

Gee, kinda like a playoff selection committee, just with sanctions.

There are only two things for certain at this point.  One is that the bleeding is going to continue for a while.

The only consistent thing about NCAA cases is that they unfold slowly. Ole Miss obviously wants this to end as quickly as possible. The school tried to spin the news this week as the end of the investigation.

The reality here is that the hearing before the Committee on Infractions won’t likely happen until the fall. Then there’s an appeals process. And considering the severity of the charges and how much Ole Miss is contesting, it’s hard to imagine things not being appealed. “This is going to be resolved in 2018 if it goes the distance,” Thomas said. “We’re looking at 2018. It’s a matter of when.”

At least we know where Hugh Freeze will be for the next couple of seasons.  And that leads to the second thing we know — Freeze may or may not be a dead man walking, but if he’s not left severely crippled by the investigation, that’s gonna leave another mark on the credibility of the NCAA’s enforcement arm.  There’s too much expected at this point for a light slap on the wrist to mollify those who expect a message to be sent.

… It’s safe to say that Freeze is fighting for his career. At the least, he faces a potential suspension, much like the ones served by Syracuse’s Jim Boeheim, UConn’s Jim Calhoun and SMU’s Larry Brown. “This is an interesting test case under the new rules,” Thomas said. “Football has the most scholarships and the most staff. It does raise the question at some point of how close are we going to hold the head football coach to things that happened down the chain.”

The entire college coaching fraternity viewed Ole Miss’s anomalous recruiting success with skepticism. And there’s a strong curiosity in the coaching world of how the NCAA will handle Freeze. “If it’s a willful and intentional violation of rules, he should not be allowed to coach, “ said a Power 5 coach. “The rule says that coaches can’t coach [when NCAA issues occur]. We’re going to find out about the whole head coach control thing.”

If Freeze survives the NCAA process and potential suspension, he still has to win games at a watered-down program. Ole Miss went 5–7 last year and then lured a recruiting class so poor that Freeze labeled it “a penalty to be under the cloud we’re under.” It’s hard to imagine Freeze surviving the fickle NCAA process and the inevitable dip that Ole Miss is expected to take on the field.

Again, it’s amazing to think about the level of self-confidence Bjork and Freeze projected at the beginning of this process, that they continued to show even after the PR disaster of Laremy Tunsil’s draft night.  In retrospect, that looks like nothing more than a bad case of bravado.  The check for that nice dinner, it seems, is about to be presented.

As a Georgia fan, it’s not so much that I have anything personal against Ole Miss.  I don’t take any pleasure out of what may be coming for the fans of the program or the players, like the incoming class, who are going to pay the price for the indiscretions of others.  It’s just that I’d like to see the NCAA, for once, properly go after a program for its wrongdoing (if that’s what’s gone down, of course) in the absence of taking the Georgia Way approach of self-debasement.  There’s a message I’d approve.

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Filed under Freeze!, The NCAA

Musical palate cleanser, on cassette and 45 edition

Here’s a song that shuffled up on my iPod this weekend — one of those tunes when you haven’t heard it in a while, you wonder why you’ve ignored it — from Spoon’s brilliant Gimme Fiction, “I Summon You”.

There’s something about the way the percussive acoustic guitar work drives the song that really appeals to me.

By the way, if you’re interested, GF is a great album, one without a single weak cut on it.

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Filed under Uncategorized