Georgia is getting short-changed for having strict drug penalties, and that doesn't look to change any time soon.
Two weeks ago, the annual Southeastern Conference meetings concluded in Destin, Fla. without any major changes to the league’s legislation. Most of this is was due to the moratorium on new NCAA legislation at the national level, which thusly caused the lack of activity at those meetings.
But one of the more critical issues on the table at the gathering – the proposed creation of a uniform, league-wide drug policy that involved consistent penalties for each school in the conference – failed to gain any sort of forward progress among SEC leaders.
“What we were trying to do is convince seven other schools that this [policy] may be a way to provide some consistency and remove that element that some schools may have a competitive advantage in this whole area,” Georgia athletic director Greg McGarity said. “Nothing really moved forward, so I think that's going to be a moot point unless it's brought up in the future by president-elect [Jere] Morehead or future presidents at other institutions.”
In theory, this may not sound like a big deal. So what if each school adheres to its own policies regarding drug penalties and suspensions? To each its own, right?
That would be a reasonable argument, except that current policies among the SEC’s 14 member institutions vary by a wide margin.
There is no “may have a competitive advantage” in this case. The lack of equal footing is clear and difficult to ignore.
According to an Associated Press report from June of last year, Georgia, Kentucky and Mississippi State were the only schools that carried mandatory suspensions for a first-positive marijuana test (10 percent of the season). Second offenses are 50 percent of games, and the third is dismissal.
Compare that to the atrocities that are Ole Miss and Florida.
Ole Miss had no mandatory suspensions for the first or second offenses, according to open records obtained by aolnews.com. For the Rebels, a second positive may mean (gasp!) the loss of free tickets or required community service. The third test failure would result in just a three-game suspension.
Florida also requires no suspension for first-time offenders. The Gators give a 20 percent suspension on the third offense, and will not dismiss a player until after failed test number five.
And what of perennial contenders LSU and Alabama? Neither programs suspend players following the first drug violation, and neither will dismiss players after the third failed test (both have a one-year suspension for that).
This may all come as a surprise to some, considering that Georgia is the school constantly in the news for failed drug tests and the ensuing suspensions.
The explanation is simply that Georgia is one of the few schools that will actually suspend players, at least on the first offense. The school puts itself at a disadvantage in doing so, and is subjected to additional negative press by keeping such strict policies.
But the school also keeps to its principles, and that is of the utmost importance.
Think about it: if you failed a drug test at work, what would happen? Nothing? No, you would be fired, suspended, docked pay, etc. Even regular students at SEC universities would see some type of consequence, were they tested.
So it makes perfect sense that both McGarity and former Georgia President Michael Adams have been huge proponents of a standardized policy in the weeks leading up to this year’s SEC meetings. McGarity, coming from Florida, is likely well aware of the school’s existing penalties for drug violations.
Sadly, the argument for a league-wide standard gained little traction at this year’s meetings, and it should be a while before we even see this matter discussed again by SEC leaders.
To be clear, this issue has nothing to do with whether you think marijuana or other drugs should be legalized by the government. If you roll up on Friday nights, that's your decision. If you think weed is the devil's herb, that's also fine.
But this is an issue of the SEC maintaining a fair and level playing field in all aspects of its existence. And it is here specifically that the league clearly fails.
As things stand, Georgia will continue to get the short end of the stick, a price to pay for keeping high standards.
Perhaps other SEC schools should think about raising theirs.
-- Alec Shirkey is a senior from Dunwoody majoring in English and Finance