For obvious reasons, the rumors now swirling around A.J. Green warranted a posting of their own, independent of this evening’s SEC Media Days link rundown. While vineyarddawg made the point already, it bears repeating that there is a reason why you don’t give your rivals a hard time when it’s their turn: what goes around comes around, after all.
At the risk of coming across like Sheriff Woody reassuring the other toys about Andy’s upcoming birthday party at the start of "Toy Story," I’m actually not worried about this one. The NCAA is making quite a show of sweeping through the Southeastern Conference in an effort to stamp out the scourge of rogue agents, but, judging by how long it took the enforcers from Indianapolis to build a case against Southern California, it’s hard to imagine this going anywhere in any relevant time frame in the absence of damning evidence.
That is exactly the sort of evidence the NCAA appears not to have. Instead, Marvin Austin’s Twitter feed and a trumped-up report from TMZ apparently form the foundation for this dragnet. Absent anyone fessing up to any wrongdoing, which is unlikely, the NCAA is going to have a tough time proving anything.
The real risk, of course, is that the Bulldogs’ best offensive playmaker could be declared ineligible. While this would be perhaps the biggest kick in the teeth of an offseason chock full of them, it is highly improbable for the simple reason that A.J. says he wasn’t there:
A source said one potential interview subject is junior receiver A.J. Green, but if enforcement officials plan to ask Green about the now-infamous party in Miami Beach, Fla., on Memorial Day weekend that prompted the inquiries at North Carolina and South Carolina and an internal investigation at Alabama, they won't learn much.
Reached by phone Tuesday night -- almost a day before the NCAA contacted Georgia -- Green told SI.com that he did not attend the party. Green, who is considered on of the nation's best receivers, said a Georgia compliance official asked him Tuesday if he attended the party. Green said he spent Memorial Day weekend at home in Summerville, S.C.
"I never went to South Beach," Green told SI.com.
The emphasis added is mine, because it is relevant that A.J. accounted for his whereabouts before the authorities started breathing down his neck. Before he had a chance to get his story straight, he presented an alibi that is completely in character for what we know to be a superstar who shuns the spotlight. Going home for Memorial Day weekend instead of going club-hopping in Miami is entirely believable coming from A.J. Green, even if it would be a suspicious claim coming from most other athletes.
If, as certainly appears to be the case, the NCAA is going after athletes who were present in a particular place on a particular night, the fact that A.J. Green wasn’t there ought to put him in the clear. If, as I am sure is the case, Green has family members who are willing to vouch for his whereabouts that weekend, the burden of proof is on the NCAA to demonstrate that he is lying. Short of someone posting ill-advised pictures to his Facebook page---an angle the NCAA and TMZ undoubtedly already have explored---the investigators are going to have a devil of a time proving that he was there. Heck, think about how tough a time they’re having in Knoxville piecing together which football players were in on the fight.
I believe A.J. Green, and not just because I want to believe A.J. Green; all the evidence indicates that he is, in fact, a good kid who would spend his holiday weekends exactly the way he says he spent this one. Even if I didn’t believe A.J. Green, though, there is a paraphrase of a line from "A Few Good Men" that is pertinent here: it doesn’t matter what I believe; it matters what the NCAA can prove. With most of the programs in the SEC implicated in this one, rival programs necessarily have one another’s backs, as no one can bring down a competitor without getting caught in the crossfire, as well.
A unified SEC versus an overworked NCAA? I know which horse I’m backing. A.J. Green behaving in character or A.J. Green having the wherewithal to lie shrewdly after doing something atypically stupid? I know which version makes more sense to me.
Where there’s smoke, there’s fire? Sometimes, that’s so. Other times, there’s smoke because that’s what the NCAA is blowing.