Specter of Hernandez hangs over SEC

semerson@macon.comJuly 16, 2013 

HOOVER, Ala. -- Will Muschamp never mentioned Urban Meyer by name. Mike Slive never mentioned Aaron Hernandez. In both cases, it wasn’t necessary.

Meyer is no longer in the SEC. Hernandez is no longer a free man. So neither was at SEC media days Tuesday, but both loomed large.

Football players have had trouble with the law for a long time, but Hernandez’ arrest this summer on a murder charge has sparked anew the debate: Is a head coach responsible for the behavior of his players?

Meyer, the former Florida head coach now at Ohio State, has pushed back on the notion that he didn’t do enough with Hernandez, who had at least one failed drug test at Florida and another arrest.

But Muschamp, now entering his third year as Meyer’s replacement at Florida, did not hem or haw when asked a general question about player behavior.

“But you’re 100 percent responsible for young men. Everything that happens,” Muschamp said.

Muschamp didn’t leave it there.

“I can’t possibly know everything that happens every single night with our football team. You also can’t stick your head in the sand and pretend everything is OK, either,” he said. “You need to be very aware of the kind of guys your guys are hanging out with.”

Slive raised the issue earlier in the day, in remarks he later said he thought over for awhile. After first listing all the success the SEC has had on the field, the commissioner said he could not ignore the “off-field incidents involving both current and former student-athletes.

“Notwithstanding the fact that our institutions have mechanisms in place to recognize problems, support systems to address personal issues, policies to provide implementation of discipline and the willingness to enforce these policies, it is a crushing disappointment when, despite all of these efforts, a young person throws away the opportunity for a promising future.”

It was an unusual deviation, and a concession by Slive that it was a serious issue.

But what can be done? Critics have pointed to Hernandez reportedly failing multiple drug tests at Florida. (The number of failed tests has not been made public.) The SEC does not have a uniform drug policy, and Georgia has led the fight to institute one. But it has been a lonely fight, and Georgia will remain one of the few schools to suspend first-time drug offenders.

Speaking later in the day, Slive said a uniform policy has been discussed “several times,” but it has become clear that most schools favor developing their own policies.

“You’re really dealing with the student and the institution, and the faculties and the administration determine through their own judicial system how they manage behavior,” Slive said. “And it isn’t something that they would or should delegate to an umbrella organization that in no way can know all the nuances of what took place. Because it’s not just the event. It’s one of the motivating factors: How can you deal with these issues, and how can you help the student? And that’s not something that I think can be done from afar.”

Slive also pointed out that it’s an NCAA violation for a school not to follow its own drug policy.

“Part of it’s medical, part of it’s behavior, and each school was in the best position to know how to handle their own kids,” Slive said. “So that’s sort of the long and short of it.”

The debate over coaching responsibility will rage on. Although some would rather not engage in it.

“I’m gonna go ahead and take a pass on that subject,” Florida quarterback Jeff Driskel said.

But teammate Dominique Easley dove in.

“They should be responsible. But in reality we’re grown men,” Easley said. “We take the steps that lead to making decisions. We should be responsible.”

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