UGA not budging on positive drug test punishments

Athletic director Greg McGarity doesn’t expect UGA to lessen its stringent punishment for positive drug tests in place any time soon.

Even though Southeastern Conference presidents and chancellors tabled Georgia’s push to standardize drug penalties for positive tests league-wide at spring meetings two weeks ago in Destin, Fla., Georgia likely won’t budge.

“You never want to say never, but there’s been no discussion about any issues with our current drug policy,” McGarity said of internal discussions. “The vast majority feel like it’s the right thing to do. We still feel like it’s the right thing to do.”

Georgia has what’s considered one of the toughest penalty structures in the SEC.

Georgia, Kentucky and Mississippi State are the only SEC schools that suspend a player for 10 percent of a season for a first positive marijuana test while the other 11 schools don’t suspend for a first offense, according to ESPN.com.

The substance abuse policies at Alabama, Arkansas, Florida and LSU call for player dismissal for a fourth positive test while Georgia and the other nine remaining schools dismiss after three positive tests.

“What we were asking is consistency on penalties,” McGarity said. “We were not talking about how many times you test a young person or the levels that basically indicated a positive test. Those measurements, the frequency, those were not part of the discussion, at least in our [athletic director] discussions, but we were just striving for consideration of consistency in penalties for positive tests. That really didn’t gain any traction anywhere.”

A conference-wide policy has been discussed at least twice previously since Mike Slive has been SEC commissioner, and this time around the talk among the presidents and chancellors did not lead to any vote taken.

No conference in the nation has a uniform drug policy. But Georgia continues to get national attention for the effects its policy has on its roster starting seasons in what can be perceived as a competitive disadvantage.

Safety Bacarri Rambo and linebacker Alec Ogletree were suspended the first four games of last season. Safety Josh Harvey-Clemons, named the Bulldogs’ defensive MVP this spring, is suspended for the season opener this year at Clemson.

“You have to know that, man, early in the season if you face Georgia you’re going to face them the last couple of years half cocked and not at full strength,” said ESPN analyst Kevin Carter, a former Florida defensive lineman, “and you’re going to need everything you’ve got to beat Clemson because that high-powered offense, they proved that they turned the corner with Tajh Boyd, who’s my Heisman hopeful.”

South Carolina coach Steve Spurrier said last year he likes to play Georgia early in the season because Georgia usually has two or three key players suspended.

Harvey-Clemons was suspended after UGA police were called to a dorm room on May 14 to investigate the smell of marijuana. Harvey-Clemons and tight end Ty Flournoy-Smith (who has since transferred) told police they had smoked marijuana; however, no drugs were found in the room and no arrests were made.

An NCAA study taken in 2009 of 20,474 student-athletes found that 22.6 percent responded they used marijuana within the last 12 months, a 1.4 percent increase since a study four years earlier.

Federal law continues to ban marijuana use, but since that NCAA study, voters in Colorado and Washington legalized marijuana last year. Such changes in society haven’t moved outgoing UGA president Michael Adams to move to change policy at the university.

“We’re not in Colorado, we’re not in California, we’re not in Oregon,” Adams said earlier this spring. “We’re in Georgia. When I took this job, I agreed to uphold the laws of the state of Georgia. I’ve tried to do that. And I happen to think in Georgia in this case is a better law for the health of society. … I think we have a sound policy.”

Adams has said that setting a high standard at Georgia with its drug policy sets a good example nationwide and he told the Birmingham News in Destin regarding a uniform league policy that “I think the conference ought to provide national leadership in that area.”

SEC executive associate commissioner Greg Sankey said in Destin: “What we’ve been asked to do is continue to be attentive to the policies in place on campus, and we will do that. We will look at the policies that exist and review them from time to time and make sure they’re being applied in a consistent and appropriate manner. That’s our strategy at the present time.”

So how much of an impact has Georgia’s policy had on its sports teams?

Georgia has cited the federal Family Educational Right and Privacy Act in saying it was exempt from releasing results of how many of its athletes were tested and the number of positive results.

Adams wouldn’t say if football has been impacted more than other sports at Georgia.

“Well, I think you know I can’t share that with you,” he said in an interview. “Some of those teams are so small if I said three kids test positive on the women’s golf team — we haven’t — you can come close to figuring that out and that’s an aspersion on everybody. In the whole scheme of things in 2013, in my time here we haven’t had huge numbers of kids in trouble with drugs. We’ve had a few, and to the best of my knowledge except in one or two cases, those were — I hate to use the term — but those were [more] recreational kind of drugs than serious kind of stuff. I can tell you this: I dealt with more drug issues in my days in California [as vice president of Pepperdine University in the 1980s] than I’ve dealt with here because the culture is different and the expectations are different.”

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