Between investigations taking place in the Yellowhammer State, probations being levied on annual rivals, and coaches making the news in all the wrong ways in the Carolinas, it’s easy for fans of the Georgia Bulldogs to start feeling pretty good about themselves and their team if they’re not careful. Fear not, though, Bulldog Nation; I am here to chase away any delusions you might have that the Athenians will be spared.
In recent days, the site header here has kept track the number of days the ‘Dawgs have gone without losing a running back, after the fashion of the signs seen in plants ticking off the days since the last industrial accident. As it turns out, I may need to change that to keep track of losses in the linebacker corps, instead.
Brandon Burrows, currently listed on the depth chart as third string behind Christian Robinson and Michael Gilliard at weakside inside linebacker (or "Mike," for those of you on a first-name basis with player positions), reportedly could miss the season due to shoulder surgery, though I have not yet seen this confirmed. Jarvis Jones, about whose eligibility issues Georgia informed the NCAA and the SEC approximately a month ago, technically remains eligible, but the school hopes to have a clear answer on Jones’s availability for the coming season before practice begins early next week, in order to avoid the uncertainty about A.J. Green that undoubtedly contributed to the Bulldogs’ 1-4 start last season.
Since it appears undisputed that Jones was provided with airplane tickets to and from Los Angeles, the primary question is whether the coach who gave him the tickets qualified as a de facto "father figure." (Your Cecil Newton jokes go here.) Reports out of Columbus strongly suggest the existence of a longstanding close relationship between Jones and AAU coach Tony Adams, which is a solid point in Jones’s favor. A gift from a mentor looks a whole lot more like an act of generosity than an impermissible benefit offered by a would-be go-between acting with ulterior motives, and the relationship between Adams and Jones appears genuine.
That, though, is only half the battle. As Seth Emerson reports, two additional payments totaling $700 also were unearthed. That, obviously, is not good---the more money that changed hands, the worse it looks---but it could still just be a difference of degree, not of kind. The problem appears to be the source of the money, which, you may recall, was an illegally-maintained bank account controlled by officials in the Parks and Recreation Department. (Your Amy Poehler jokes go here.) If Jones didn’t know the source of the money, will his ignorance excuse his acceptance of the benefit, or does the shady source of those funds taint every use to which the money was put?
It is tempting to look at the Cecil Newton situation and say, "Father, father figure, what’s the difference?" However, based upon the publicly-reported evidence, the situations are distinguishable, because here we know benefits passed from one hand to another, and we know the ultimate recipient of those benefits was the player himself. It appears uncontested that Jarvis Jones received the plane tickets, so his eligibility turns on the nature of his relationship with the gift-giver and the significance of the sullied source of the money. The former factor appears to work in Jones’s favor; the latter does not.
I hope, but do not expect, Jones is determined to be eligible. Failing that, I hope, but do not expect, that his suspension will not be long. If, however, Jones received benefits totaling approximately $800 in airplane tickets, $400 in the form of a laptop, and $300 in some other form, and he is absolved neither by his ignorance nor by his relationship with Adams, we’re looking at a four-game suspension in the absence of mitigating circumstances. I really can’t see the Adams-Jones relationship being a mitigating factor; either the relationship was such that the benefits were not improper, and Jones is eligible, or the relationship did not prevent the benefits from being deemed improper, and that relationship has no impact on the length of the suspension.
I am prepared for the worst, and, under the circumstances as they presently are known to us, I can’t really claim the worst is unjustified. If I had to guess, I’d bet Chase Vasser will be starting at strongside outside linebacker (or "Sam," for those of you on a first-name basis with player positions) for the first four games of the season, but, as always, I’m prepared to be pleasantly surprised rather than proven correct.