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Sunday, May 15, 2011

Richt slams what he calls 'winning at all costs in college football'

GREENVILLE, S.C. – You could tell this crowd of Georgia fans was a bit out for blood. And Mark Richt, without naming any fellow coaches, was willing to jump on it.

It was a meeting of Bulldog faithful in upstate South Carolina on Wednesday evening. These haven’t been good times for their football program, and at previous meetings Richt had taken strong questioning from fans about his own performance.

But the mood of this crowd turned early, during a question-and-answer session, when a fan asked Richt and men’s basketball coach Mark Fox what they would do to prevent Georgia “from becoming an Ohio State.”

It was Fox’s turn at the microphone. But moderator Chuck Dowdle stepped in and said Ohio State’s main problem was they “have a head coach who’s not truthful.”

Then he said pointed at Richt and Fox and said Georgia didn’t have that problem.

Fox, who just completed his second year in the SEC and probably doesn’t want to make too many waves, answered by saying people forget that the NCAA rulebook is thick and changes every year. Then he spoke about educating players to “think and not act, and not act and then alibi.”

He finally threw the crowd a bit of meat:

“I have yet to visit a tattoo parlor in Athens, and don’t plan to,” he said, to laughter.

Dowdle didn’t make Richt answer the question. But when it came his turn to take questions, a fan jumped in with an even more pointed question, closer to home:

What would Georgia do about the practice of over-signing – as in bringing in more recruits than they have room for, and then eventually running them off.

Richt and the Georgia administration have said before they dislike the practice and won’t do it. A few other coaches in the league have defended it, and the issue will certainly be on the front-burner this summer.

But Richt, in his customary polite way, began by bringing any crowd members unaware of the issue up to speed.

“Some coaches …” he began, before a voice from the crowd interrupted.

“Nick Saban!” a fan yelled out.

“Well I won’t say,” Richt said.

You can only bring in the number of players you have room form Richt explained, and that means 25. (He didn’t get into the rule that you could apply early enrollees to last year's total, as Georgia did this year with Christian LeMay and Chris Conley.)

Then the coach explained the practice that he doesn’t like, the distinction between over-signing and grayshirting:

“If you bring them in in the summer, and you work them and you let your strength staff work with them, and you kind of decide which ones you like the best, and you tell five of them, ‘Hey we know we signed you, and we expected you to be able to come in, we don’t have space for you, we’re really sorry about that but we don’t have space for you – you’re gonna have to leave and come back in January.'

“I think that’s an awful thing to do, I think that’s the wrong thing to do. And it’s nothing that we’ve done since I’ve been at Georgia.”

This was met by a loud round of applause.

“Not that we haven’t grayshirted, or talked to guys about grayshirting,” Richt added. “If you tell five of those guys ‘Hey we’ve got 20 spaces. I can sign 25. There’s a good chance that by school starts there’ll be room for you, because of the attrition that happens every year everywhere you go. If there’s space for you, you come in with your class. If there’s not space for you, are you willing to come in in January? …

"If you tell them on the front end and they know that, everyone understands that, I don’t think there’s anything wrong with that. And that’s how we go about it if we’re going to talk to a guy about grayshirting.”

Richt said Georgia usually has at least one player that grayshirts in every class. The public doesn’t even know about it, he added.

“These other coaches have been over-signing, trying to grayshirt, trying to make sure they never come up short of that 85 (scholarship limit) number. But in doing so have they done it in an ethical way, which is what you’re asking. And I’d say not. That’s why the NCAA is trying to change its rules.”

As the meeting wound down, Richt weighed in on what he sees as the general breaking down of ethics in the profession.

“There’s been a bit too much of the winning at all costs in college football,” he said. “And I hope the tide turns in the other direction.”

This was also met with a loud round of applause.

These Georgia fans didn’t have much to feel good about on the field. But they left the meeting sure that their coaches and school were at least making them proud off the field.

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