With the Damon Evans incident still fresh on people's minds, punishment for alcohol-related offenses may have just gotten a lot tougher at UGA.
Here's what we know: In the wee hours of Saturday morning, two sophomores on the Georgia football team -- backup running back Dontavius Jackson and starting receiver Tavarres King -- were pulled over by Athens police. King received only an underage-possession charge, but Jackson got hit with a half-dozen charges ranging from DUI to leaving the scene of an accident to following too closely. Sunday evening, Mark Richt announced the consequences: Both players have been "suspended indefinitely from all team activities," King will miss the season opener against Louisiana-Lafayette -- and Jackson could miss as much as half the season.
Pretty simple, right? Two guys get careless, then get suspended? Well, that may not be all that's going on here.
Obviously nobody needs to be reminded that this is all happening less than a week after now-former athletic director Damon Evans got bounced from his job following his own DUI (along with some other revelations of a not-strictly-illegal-but-still-embarrassingly-salacious nature). And it looks like the gossip still swirling around the Evans incident may be influencing the way Jackson and King are being treated.
At the risk of going to the Zach Mettenberger well one too many times, let's compare his case to the one from this past weekend. Initially, Mettenberger was charged only with underage drinking and possession of a fake ID; this happened on March 7. Nearly 10 days later, Richt was still deciding how Mettenberger would be disciplined -- but he certainly wasn't "suspended from all team activities," since, as the linked story mentions, he was still taking reps with the rest of the team. Only later was Mettenberger's one-game suspension announced (followed about a month later, of course, by the not-officially-known but widely-alluded-to revelations that got him kicked off the team for good).
Jackson and King, meanwhile, got arrested early Saturday morning -- and in less than 48 hours, not only had Richt suspended them indefinitely from team activities, he'd already determined their punishment with respect to how many games they'd miss. Quite an efficient disposition of the whole case compared to Mettenberger's, and whether or not the still-fresh Damon Evans incident was the major determining factor, it's going to be hard for anyone associated with the football program to deny that Evans' dismissal influenced Richt's actions in some form or fashion.
Now, none of this is meant to imply that either Jackson or King are being treated unfairly, or even that the Evans incident shouldn't have been on the minds of anyone involved in deciding their punishment. But if Evans' arrest did have anything to do with the severity of the discipline meted out to Jackson and King, two questions are worth asking. The first is whether Jackson, like Evans, will "lose his job" as a result of all this -- backup status plus laundry list of charges equals a regrettably easy opportunity to make an example of someone by kicking him off the team entirely, particularly when he's already written off half the upcoming season. But the second and more salient question is whether Evansgate may have inadvertently signaled a significant beefing-up of team discipline as it pertains to alcohol charges. This wouldn't be the first time that's happened -- ironically enough, Evans' tenure as AD included the "10-percent rule" mandating specific suspensions for athletes charged with alcohol-related offenses -- but it could be one of the toughest.
If the comments thread to the AJC.com story is any indication (granted, such things must always be taken with a Costco economy-sized grain of salt), the fan base doesn't seem to have many major issues with Jackson being kicked off the team or with the penalties for booze infractions getting a whole lot stricter around Butts-Mehre. The hope, of course, is that the athletes at UGA won't give us too many more opportunities to test the latter.
(And to put everyone's minds at ease on a couple final issues: No, Jackson didn't have anyone's underwear in his lap when he was pulled over, and yes, by all accounts everyone involved was forthcoming with their middle names. That scourge, at least, is one that the UGA police appear to have vanquished.)