ATHENS - The new, revised version of Georgia’s student-athlete Substance Abuse Policy was done so with the physical well-being of each individual playing sports for the Bulldogs in mind.
That’s according to Director of Sports Medicine Ron Courson in a teleconference with Bulldog beat writers Monday afternoon, following the release of the new policy earlier in the day.
“I think with anything you want to take a look at any existing policy you have and things change. One of the big things we were looking at, drug rehab and substance abuse issues you need to look at from a medical standpoint,” Courson said. “I think in the past it was looked at from a disciplinary standpoint but substance abuse is a medical problem just like any medical problem we see.”
Unlike the old policy, Courson said the new one – which went into effect Sept. 1 - will help coaches and administrators deal with each situation as an individual case.
“Fifteen, 20 years ago, you looked at ACLs, there was an ACL protocol you followed. What we found out was it didn’t work very well when you tried to use a cookbook approach, so we tried to craft our substance approach policy the same way as looking at an individual basis from a problem-solving standpoint,” Courson said. “Every case is different. Every student-athlete is different, so we’re trying to use this same philosophy from a problem-solving standpoint.”
According to the 15-page document, there are now two levels of violations which apply to student-athletes attending school at UGA.
Level 1 -- "Defined as possession, use, or facilitating the possession/use of alcohol."
Level 2 -- "Includes, but is not limited to, any violation involving the operation of a motor vehicle after consumption of alcohol and/or the use of drugs, acts of violence while using alcohol or drugs, destruction of property, disorderly conduct, or intoxication level that requires medical treatment or results in medical being called, even if treatment is refused, and any drug violation."
Any violations of the Level 2 variety are considered violations of the Substance Abuse Policy.
In contrast to the previous version, the revised guidelines do not treat an arrest for drugs or alcohol as an automatic violation of the Substance Abuse Policy. Under the previous version, Bulldog linebacker Natrez Patrick would have been considered a third-time offender and would have lost his scholarship.
“We just wanted to be consistent with University policy,” Courson said. “Our student-athletes are students at the University as well and the University has an existing drug and alcohol policy so we’re trying to standardize that and that’s where the Level 1 and Level 2 came from so it would be exactly consistent with the University policy.”
Courson said head football coach Kirby Smart had “zero” input and influence on the new policy, which now adheres to the Amnesty and Good Samaritan already in effect for typical UGA students.
“The biggest thing is we’re trying to make it consistent with the pre-existing policies with the university to mesh with the Amnesty and the Good Samaritan has, to mesh with the current University Drug and Alcohol policy of Level 1 and Level 2 violations, and then we tried to do make it more individualized.”
Another change has the university athletic association outsourcing its substance abuse student education.
“We wanted to put it in the hands of professionals,” Courson said. “We want to try to look at the individual aspects of every case. Our goal is to provide the best environment for our student-athletes and to do that we feel we need to be individualized.”
Like the old policy, all student-athletes are subject to drug tests, including scholarship and non-scholarship players, as well as those academically ineligible and those who have exhausted athletic eligibility but are still receiving financial aid and using other athletic services.
Sanctions for violators remain the same, albeit with one specific caveat where any exception to sanctions must be approved by the Director of Athletics on a case by case basis, based upon the recommendation of the university’s substance abuse treatment team, which consists of team doctors, trainers, and high-level administration.
Punishments will include:
…First Offense – Includes suspension from competition of no less than 10 percent of the total sports season and possible loss of scholarship.
…Second Offense – Includes suspension from competition of no less than 30 percent of the total sports season and possible loss of scholarship.
…Third Offense – The student-athlete will be permanently suspended and scholarship (if applicable) will be terminated.
According to athletic director Greg McGarity, the UGA Athletic Association has been working on the revised policy since 2015.
It went into effect on Sept. 1, 2017, although the University did not make the news public until the revised handbook was requested through state open records. 11Alive broke the news of its existence last week.
“There was no reason to,” said McGarity, when asked why the handbook was not released earlier. “We made our student-athletes aware of it and basically handled it internally from that way and when there was a request for it we obviously provided it as an FOI. There was nothing to hide here, no request was made, and basically, we had updated everybody that was needed to be informed of it internally.”
Courson was asked if the new revisions will result in fewer athletes being subjected to sanctions.
“I don’t think you’ll see a change in the number. What we want to see a change in is in our outcomes. We want to have the very best outcomes as we can with every single athlete,” Courson said. “That’s why it’s important. Substance abuse can affect your life in a very negative way. I’m a parent that has four kids. My goal is to treat our student-athletes the same way.”
NOTE: Earlier Monday, Billy Healan, the attorney for Patrick sent an email to reporters stating that any probation by his client would not be a violation of the UGA Athletic Association Substance Abuse Policy.
When asked if that was correct, McGarity agreed.
“The answer to that is true,” McGarity said. ‘It is true and it would have been under either policy (the old or the revised).”
Smart said during his press conference on Monday that Patrick remained a member of the Bulldog football team. It remains unclear if he will travel to or play in the Rose Bowl against Oklahoma.