Students in Athens learned on Tuesday about a revision to the University’s Code of Conduct that covers drug and alcohol incidents. The previous policy called for an automatic suspension from the University upon a second drug- or alcohol-related arrest during a probationary period which followed the first arrest.
That automatic suspension is gone. Instead, “under the new system, hearing panels from the Office of Judicial Programs will have more authority to regulate punishments suitable for specific cases.” University president Michael Adams warns students not to consider the change “a free pass on alcohol violations.” In fact, the greater latitude given to disciplinary panels might allow for “even more significant penalties” based on the severity of the incident.
The flexibility in the new policy “was designed to differentiate between a student caught with a beer in a dorm refrigerator and a DUI-related offense.” Vice President for Student Affairs Rodney Bennett expects that “the changes will ease and reduce the number of minor incidents that clog the system under the old rules, and it will allow officials to focus more effectively on the more serious alcohol and drug violations.”
This change in policy is significant for student-athletes because, well, it’s kind of hard to participate in a sport if you’re suspended for a semester. A second arrest during his or her probationary period was essentially an automatic season-long suspension for a student-athlete. To be clear – the revised policy does not mean lighter discipline for drug or alcohol-related incidents, and we’re not even talking about what a coach might decide to do based on program or athletic department guidelines. But the change to the University policy does allow the disciplinary panels to consider alternatives and also take into account the severity of the incident.
Senior linebacker Akeem Hebron experienced the consequences of the old policy. Hebron was arrested twice during the early part of 2007 for underage possession of alcohol. The second arrest triggered the automatic semester suspension meaning that he’d miss the 2007 fall semester – basically his entire redshirt freshman season. Instead of remaining inactive he transferred to Georgia Military College for the 2007 season.
To his credit, Hebron kept clean, remained on track academically, and was accepted back to the University and the Georgia football program in time for the 2008 season. His story since has been one of perseverance. He was a promising prospect regarded as highly as Stafford, Moreno, and Rashad Jones from the 2006 class. He was mentioned as a possible starter headed into 2007 before his suspension. He had a promising return in the 2008 G-Day game, but a fracture dislocation of the left ankle at LSU ended his 2008 season and put him at a big disadvantage for the 2009 season. He missed all of spring practice in 2009 and had a minimal impact before recording three tackles in the bowl game.
We can’t speculate on how Hebron might’ve been handled under the new policy. Causing a disturbance while underage and intoxicated downtown is somewhere between “a beer in a dorm refrigerator” and a DUI, and a long-term suspension might have come down from either the University or coach anyway. It’s now Hebron’s senior season, and it’s been a long way back from suspension and injury. He hopes to find success in the new scheme with a new coach, but he’s currently listed third at one of the inside linebacker spots.