I Hope I Never Have to Watch Todd Gurley Play for Georgia Again
The Atlanta Journal-Constitution is now reporting that Gurley “may not be cleared to return to the field this season.” It’s worth noting that such an assertion isn’t in and of itself a revelation. My confidence in the NCAA’s ability to conduct a thorough investigation is slim and my confidence in the organization’s ability to do so within the next two months is practically nonexistent. In any event, I wrote this early this morning and I stand by it. I hope Gurley doesn’t play again at the collegiate level. But I hope that’s his decision—not someone else’s.
I hope Todd Gurley never plays another down of football for the University of Georgia. Admittedly, I’m in a very dark place right now, but I think I mean what I say.
Todd Gurley is the best football player I’ve covered at Georgia and the best Bulldog I’ve had the pleasure of rooting for. Whether watching him on TV, in the stands, in a press box or on the field during warmups, he’s been nothing short of impressive. I’ve compared him to Herschel Walker here and on larger mediums, and I don’t shy away from that comparison. But just as Walker revolutionized Georgia football with his playing, I think Gurley could revolutionize college football by not playing.
Depending on who you ask, Gurley is alleged to have received somewhere between $400 (Sports Illustrated) and $2000 (TMZ) for some autographs. That’s illegal based on the antiquated and arbitrary lines drawn by the NCAA. He will sit a yet undetermined amount of time. I do not think, however, that “indefinite” means “forever” in this instance. Based on what’s currently being speculated, there’s just not a precedent for an eight game slap on the wrist that would remove him from the Bulldogs’ remaining seven regular season games and likely bowl appearance.
But if the University of Georgia can willfully yield to the corrupt power of the NCAA without so much as a whimper, I think Todd Gurley can willfully yield to his own self-interest with an inaudible roar of defiance. Why shouldn’t he take his talents to South Beach, back home to North Carolina or wherever he deems fit, begin training for a long NFL career while keeping his body healthy and start profiting off of his likeness? Why shouldn’t he make a conscious decision that he’s too good for college athletics—and not just on an athletic level.
The NCAA doesn’t care about Todd Gurley in any capacity other than the money he generates for the “cause” and the money he’s not allowed to generate for himself. The University cares about Todd Gurley—I don’t think anyone would argue against that—but not to the extent that it cares about pleasing its domineering master of incompetence, The NCAA.
The most frustrating part of all this to me is Mark Richt’s statement. For context, I’m not a Richt-hater by any means, but the announcement of “disappointment,” might have well read “Yeah, Todd did it; we’re making sure he gets punished.”
The University had every opportunity to get to the bottom of things with integrity but without saying a word. The school had every chance to say, “You know what, we think he might have done something that the NCAA says is bad. But we’re in the process of finding out just why that rule still matters and we’re going to continue to play him because he’s an otherwise good kid. After all, he didn’t break a legal law, just an NCAA bylaw and those are getting struck down left and right in the courtroom so we’ll wait on some legal processes to get underway and play him in the interim.”
Georgia didn’t say that. Georgia didn’t imply that. Georgia threw up the white flag and chose the NCAA over Todd Gurley and his teammates and Bulldog fans.
Jason Smith called on Greg McGarity, Georgia’s athletic director, to take a stand earlier today, but that’s not happening. In a way, I don’t blame McGarity, though. Playing Gurley despite an ongoing investigation is bold if not unprecedented. You don’t get to a position of power at an NCAA member institution by blazing trails, violating norms and otherwise putting student-athletes in front of legalistic bullshit. McGarity, like all athletic directors, is a product of his environment. That’s not entirely his fault.
But Todd Gurley is also a product of his environment, and he’s not allowed to produce income off of his own production. That much is clear and that much is not new. Accordingly, you can’t argue that Gurley didn’t knowingly violate a rule—assuming the allegations are true. But you also can’t argue that the rule makes any sense in today’s era. And you can’t argue that Gurley couldn’t do something to change that rule, either.
If Todd Gurley walks away right now, he screws his team. But although I haven’t played collegiate football, I do understand team environments. I’ve been in locker rooms, I’ve battled with teammates. I think his teammates would respect the hell out of him if he rebuffed an NCAA’s advancement and a sham of an investigation.
By all accounts this team loves Todd Gurley—and not just because he’s the best damned football player in the country. He’s the guy on the sideline firing up the defense. He’s the guy In The Hedges—not Between The Hedges—celebrating with fans after Georgia victories. We all bleed red, but Todd Gurley bleeds black as well. He’s in a unique position of power to walk away from college football with an agenda that is as noble as it is necessary.
As a Georgia fan, I want to see Todd Gurley on every snap. Even non-Georgia fans want that. This past weekend a friend from Denver attended the Vanderbilt game with me; it was his first SEC football game. His little brother requested a Todd Gurley jersey, we tailgated with friends whose little girl wore a “Gurley Girl” t-shirt and spent the entire afternoon anticipating what the star running back might do on the field. The craziest part of it all is that Gurley lived up to an entire afternoon of building expectations—even for a first-timer. My buddy was blown away.
Todd Gurley is an absolute pleasure to watch, and I don’t throw that around lightly. But if he walks away from college football completely healthy and drives home with even so much as a passive anti-NCAA message to send, I can deal with that. Because I think people will listen. Not just people like you and me. But players and people with actual power. A voluntary departure by Gurley—before a ruling or finalized suspension—will speak louder than any NCAA propaganda or any courtroom verdict.
The NCAA won’t make a stand and neither will Georgia, but Todd Gurley can.
That would speak volumes and put some power back in the hands of the student-athletes. That impact would last a lot longer than a Heisman Trophy.
Using Johnny Manziel as precedent, the NCAA contemplates Todd Gurley’s punishment. pic.twitter.com/hsjyyPmhiM
— Jay Bilas (@JayBilas) October 10, 2014
That’s all I got/