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Post Ron Jirsa, academic counselor

Wednesday October 18, 2006

Chip Towers in today’s AJC reports an accusation by former Georgia basketball center Robb Dryden.

Former University of Georgia basketball coach Ron Jirsa benched a player after he refused to change his major when his class schedule conflicted with practice, former UGA center Robb Dryden said this week.

Dryden claims that after refusing to change his major, Jirsa retaliated by dismissing him from the team and then by benching him after Dryden was reinstated by associate athletic director Dick Bestwick. I recall at the time a lot of people wondering why Dryden wasn’t used much at all after showing some early promise, and I guess this explains it. Jirsa doesn’t deny the incident.

Sometimes coaches are able to work around schedules. Andy Landers moved his practices last year to early mornings in order to accomodate the afternoon class schedules which conflicted with his usual practice time. No one was thrilled with the crack-of-dawn practices, but the team was able to balance the need to practice with the academic schedules of the student-athletes. Several players had to learn the discipline to be ready and alert for early practices, but that’s part of the trade-off of priorities.

It seems from the article as if Jirsa had that option in this case, and it’s wrong that he tried to force a different set of priorities on Dryden instead of adjust the practice schedule.

Life as a college student-athlete is a constant balance of priorities. You must be dedicated to your sport, because that’s the reason why you’re on scholarship. You have academic priorities. You have social and even financial priorities. Many have spiritual priorities. Sometimes you have to choose some over others. I do fault Jirsa for trying to force Dryden to change his major to one more convenient for Jirsa, and I don’t at all like the retaliatory response of kicking Dryden off the team after Robb refused to drop his major. That’s a ham-handed response by a new coach who wasn’t ready for those nuances of the job.

This isn’t always as cut-and-dried as it seems. It might happen that a must-have class is only offered when the team practices, and the coach has already found the optimal time to balance practice with the course load of most of his players. If a player can’t practice, his performance and value to the team is diminished. Should a player who can’t practice expect to play?

"That was the backbone reason why I came to Georgia — to go the engineering school, and I wasn’t going to change my major," Dryden said.

That’s great, and I’m glad he finally graduated, but he also had to remember the means by which he was able to come to Georgia and major in engineering. There was a commitment to basketball. It doesn’t seem though that this situation was completely either-or. Jirsa had the ability to be flexible and chose not to, so it’s quite right that he should have the egg on his face.

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