Georgia Football: The Mighty Contradiction of Mark Richt's Efforts to Discipline

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Georgia Football: The Mighty Contradiction of Mark Richt's Efforts to Discipline
Dave Martin/Associated Press

The University of Georgia famously claims one of the nation’s most stringent student-athlete drug policies.  In theory, this is a point of pride for Bulldog fans as it’s easy to stand behind a program with a low tolerance for nonsense and illicit behavior.  In practice, however, these uniquely high standards have from time to time resulted in the suspension or dismissal of a star.

The most recent such example may be former Georgia safety Josh Harvey-Clemons.  While the cause for his dismissal was not disclosed, with two prior drug-related offenses the general consensus is that it was a third strike that put him out of the program.  That assertion matches Georgia’s stated policy for such missteps.

University of Georgia Student Athlete Drug Policy
First Offense Suspension for minimum 10% of athletic season
Second Offense Suspension for minimum 30% of athletic season
Third Offense Dismissal, termination of scholarship

While the penalties for drug-related offenses are university-wide, head football coach Mark Richt has openly expressed his support for the standards in the past, and he wishes other schools would follow the Dawgs’ lead.  Last summer he told Seth Emerson of The Telegraph, “I’d love if everybody had the same level playing ground.  That would be great.  But I don’t think we should go towards them to get a level playing field.  I’d rather they come to us.”

Shanna Lockwood-USA TODAY Sports
Richt will occasionally heckle a ref.

And yet, even his firm commitment to strict precedents can be perceived as contradictory to how his players perform on the literal playing field.  Despite some of the most disciplined off-field policies in the Southeastern Conference, Georgia is consistently one of the most penalized teams in the league on Saturdays. 

Last fall, Georgia was the SEC’s third most penalized team with 83 infractions, per Sports Reference.  Only LSU and Florida were flagged more frequently.  This type of performance is hardly an outlier.  Over the past seven years, Georgia has recorded an average of 91.4 penalties per season.  Only one SEC program (Florida) has surpassed that total.

Average Penalties Per Season Since 2007
Team Average Penalties Per Season
Florida 99.6
Georgia 91.4
LSU 90.3
Texas A&M 88.6
Arkansas 78.6
Auburn 78.3
South Carolina 72.9
Ole Miss 70.9
Missouri 70.3
Tennessee 69.3
Vanderbilt 69.3
Mississippi State 67.7
Kentucky 66.3
Alabama 59.6

Even more alarming is the consistency with which Georgia fails to display discipline on the field.  While the Bulldogs' struggles on special teams are well-documented and may present anecdotal support of such shortcomings, the Dawgs’ penalty situation presents an even direr—and more calculable—representation of Georgia’s lack of control.

Only once in the past seven years has Georgia committed fewer penalties than the conference’s average.  Ironically, that performance came during the Dawgs' losing campaign in 2010.

Georgia Penalties Relative to SEC Average
Year Georgia Penalties SEC Average
2007 91 80.9
2008 112 75.0
2009 104 80.4
2010 68 78.1
2011 86 77.0
2012 96 74.4
2013 83 70.6

Superficially, Georgia’s affinity for drawing yellow flags is at odds with Mark Richt’s public role as disciplinarian.  Upon further review, however, the gap between expectations on and off the field is more explainable.

For Richt, who is outspoken about his faith and beliefs away from football, off-the-field issues and on-the-field struggles are not evenhanded.  As he explained to a Fellowship of Christian Athletes event in February 2007, winning is not Richt's only goal.

You have to win enough games to stick around and we know that we have to have success on the field in order to get paid in order to stay around, but we just have to make sure that we do not make winning the only goal.  To win at all cost so to speak.  I think that my philosophy is if we build good men, then we have built a good team.  If we build a good team we will have success on the field.

For Mark Richt, building young men and building a football team are two cooperating but separate objectives, but one comes before the other

In light of that, Richt’s adherence to a strict off-field standards despite on-field sloppiness makes sense.  He told Seth Emerson:

Sometimes people say, well you don't have any control of the team because you've got guys suspended. No, we gain control and we keep control of the team through suspending people because that's how we discipline, that's how we punish. ... If you've got a kid who's not behaving the way you want, you're gonna take away what they want the most, because you're gonna stick 'em.

There is no contradiction in Richt's discipline after all.  As he told Marc Weiszer of the Athens Banner-Herald last week following Harvey-Clemons' dismissal, Georgia players "understand there are certain rules that everybody needs to abide by and if they don't they could possibly lose their privilege to play at Georgia."

Playing for a man like Richt, who values growth on and off the field, is a privilege indeed.  That is not lost on his team or his former players.

Richt remains committed to building young men and doing things the Georgia way.  Part of that process is discipline away from the field.  Sooner or later, that's going to pay dividends between the lines. 

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