Georgia’s outlook for its 2003 opener at Clemson — and perhaps its entire season — took a major hit Wednesday when eight players were declared ineligible for selling their SEC championship rings, four players were suspended for other rules violations and it was announced another possible starter will transfer.
The stunning and perhaps unprecedented round of hits to the Georgia roster follows last month’s announcement that four players were suspended for two games after they were charged with misdemeanor drug possession.
Also, earlier this month Kedric Golston was declared ineligible for selling his 2002 Southeastern Conference championship ring. The school’s inquiry into the Golston situation led to the discovery that eight more players had sold their rings.
Georgia director of athletics Vince Dooley declared the nine players who sold their rings ineligible. The athletic association already has been in contact with the NCAA to determine procedures for the players to repay the profits they gained by selling the rings as the major part of the process of having their eligibility restored.
Even if the nine players declared ineligible for selling their rings have their status restored following appeals to the NCAA, the blows to the roster for the Aug. 30 opening game at Clemson will be severe.
In an announcement released Wednesday evening, Georgia disclosed that running back Tyson Browning has been suspended for three games and three other players — fullback Chris Hickman, linebacker Jemario Smith and cornerback B.J. Fields — have been suspended for one game for undisclosed violations of team rules.
Browning, who played a backup role as a true freshman last season, finished spring drills as the No. 2 tailback behind Tony Milton. Hickman also was listed as a top backup.
Georgia already has lost two of its top cornerbacks — Tim Jennings and DeMario Minter — plus receiver Mario Raley and center Randall Swoopes for two-game suspensions for their arrests on marijuana possession last month.
The school announced Wednesday that Swoopes, who was a strong candidate to win a starting job, will transfer to Georgia Military College “by mutual agreement.’’ According to the release, Swoopes may be allowed to return to Georgia after next season.
The suspensions of eight players for rules violations and drug arrests would be enough to shake the confidence of anyone picking Georgia to repeat as SEC champion.
More puzzling is why nine players risked their eligibility by selling their coveted SEC championship rings.
Golston, a part-time starter last season as a true freshman, had his ring sold on the internet website Ebay. While looking into that incident, Georgia’s compliance office discovered eight more players had sold their SEC rings for varying amounts.
The nine players declared ineligible: Golston; defensive backs Kenny Bailey, Bruce Thornton and Jennings; receivers Fred Gibson and Michael Johnson; defensive tackle Darrius Swain; linebacker Tony Taylor and walk-on running back Trey Young. Of that group, Thornton, Jennings, Gibson, Swain and Taylor finished spring drills as starters, and Johnson would be a probable starter in a three-receiver formation.
Georgia coach Mark Richt was in Valdosta Wednesday night as he makes his tour of the state speaking to booster clubs.
In a statement released by Georgia, Richt called the rules violations which led to the latest disciplinary actions “very disappointing.’’
“I think as a football program and athletic association we are now committed to doing a better job of educating our student-athletes on the worth of achievement awards which far transcends monetary value,’’ Richt said, referring to the players who sold their championship rings.