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Why UGA's Drug Policy Is Different

According to this very helpful response to my post on Monday about UGA's strict set of punishments for even casual drug usage on the part of football players, Georgia's policy is not just for the football team or the athletic department as a whole, but rather springs out of Michael Adams' attempts to change the reputation of the University itself. Moreover, these changes have been brewing since 2006:

The answer goes back to early 2006, and it has to do with what was going on around the UGA campus. University President Michael Adams, as early as his 2005 State of the Univeristy address, showed concern over the school’s reputation as a party school and its impact on "academic rigor." Two high-profile events within the next year helped to turn that concern into momentum for campus-wide action: 1) the drug and alcohol-related death of student Lewis Fish and 2) the trashing of campus following the 2005 Auburn game.

With that context, it seems unlikely that Georgia is going to change any time soon. If President Adams is trying to improve UGA's academic image overall and he views taking a harder line on student drinking and drug use as being critical to those efforts, then the football program is just a cork bobbing on a sea. This is not an issue for Mark Richt or Greg McGarrity to decide.

Personally, I'm not opposed to Adams' efforts. I come to this issue as a casual fan and something of an outsider. I used to go to Georgia games fairly regularly, but that ended when I became a father in 2006. Thus, Georgia's social traditions don't mean as much to me as they do to people who went to the school. I am also someone who grew up in the state and chose to go to a state school other than UGA. I had a number of reasons for that decision, one of which was Georgia's reputation as a party school.* If the school has moderated that image in 12 years time, I'll be more interested in sending my boys to Athens.

* - Unlike Rainier Wolfcastle, I didn't need to "play nerd."

The drug policy issue highlights a tension between Georgia and much of the rest of the SEC. For a variety of reasons - location, pro-business environment, and a related, mostly progressive approach to dismantling Jim Crow - Atlanta has exploded in terms of population and economic activity. In the 1950s, there was not much to distinguish Atlanta from Little Rock or Birmingham. A half-century later, this city has left those cities in the dust in terms of being an attractive place for educated professionals - both from this state and from elsewhere - to settle.

As a result, UGA can select from better qualified students, a trend that will only increase as college tuition rises and the advantages of sending kids to in-state schools increases. Thus, UGA should be going in a different direction as compared to most of the conference. UGA should be aspiring to become like UVA and UNC: an academically prestigious school that doesn't need to rely on the football team or the nightlife as its calling cards. That puts Georgia in a different place than the rest of the conference, save for Vandy and Florida (and I suppose now Missouri). The strict drug policy is one vestige of that difference and it might not be a bad thing. In retrospect, my initial post suffered from the flaw of just viewing UGA through a football prism without accounting for the fact that there is more going on there. Michael Adams would like for me to think differently.

Photographs by coka_koehler used in background montage under Creative Commons. Thank you.