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Post Crime and punishment: Athens vs. Atlanta

Tuesday March 1, 2011

Bernie asks a good question: why are we just now finding out about the early February DUI arrest of a Tech baseball player?

The answer is probably a lot simpler than you think, and it can be summed up by this web page. Athens is a small enough town that media (or a random, bored message board denizen) can glance at the county and UGA arrest logs each morning and, without doing much work, see who got booked. Not much is going to get missed.

Try that in Atlanta. Does the Atlanta police department even offer a web page that logs who gets booked? How many people are ticketed or arrested on a given night in Atlanta? The city is big enough and the police active enough that an isolated DUI is going to have a lot of places to hide. That seems to have been the case here where it took several weeks for the story to come to light. The Damon Evans story broke as the result of media checking into a rumor and not as the result of someone hovering over the Atlanta city jail’s web site. Add in the many surrounding and overlapping jurisdictions in the metro Atlanta area, and it’s next to impossible to sort through. Athenians can keep up on a single handy, dandy web page.

Even the motivations of the local police and newspaper are different. You won’t get the AJC to cover the Tech beat unless there’s been another armed robbery. UGA dominates the Athens news. Both schools have their own police forces, but certainly the Clarke County police spend a lot more time dealing with student-related crime and patrol than the Atlanta police. I don’t suggest that either the Banner-Herald or the local police are out to get UGA students and athletes. But you do have a newspaper more likely to find smaller incidents newsworthy and a police force paying more attention than they would in a much larger city with a lot more going on.

A separate issue is one of policy. By now, most serious Georgia fans are unfortunately very familiar with the department-wide alcohol policy. The first offense earns you a suspension equivalent to 10% of the season. The second offense used to result in an automatic semester-long suspension from the University but now allows for some discretion based on the nature of the offense. A second offense now usually means a half-season suspension.

You might feel a little indignant that Skole’s public discipline to date is a one-game (less than 2% of the season) vacation against Georgia Southern. Let it go. There’s nothing that says that Tech or any school has to do anything. Is it right that Georgia student-athletes operate under a different and more strict set of rules? Fine. Until you codify student-athlete discipline across the NCAA (good luck with that), you’re going to have variation based on the priorities of the schools.

The surprising element to the story is that “Georgia Tech’s code of conduct for student-athletes doesn’t have any rules specific to DUIs.” You might think Georgia’s policy is excessive, but at least you know what it is. It’s an area into which the athletic department, with close cooperation from the University, put some thought. You might smirk and remark that Georgia has had a lot more experience in this area. Two responses – first, do we know? We just discussed how easy it is for individual incidents that are even matters of public record to get lost in the massive volume of Atlanta police activity. Tech has no obligation to release or comment on arrests or other disciplinary matters. Second, the present Tech athletic administration has had to deal with issues of drug abuse and DUI among its student-athletes and staff. There still doesn’t seem to be a unified policy, and that tends to leave things up to the individual program and away from public scrutiny.

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