Georgia star running back Todd Gurley violated an NCAA rule by accepting $3,000 for autographing memorabilia. Period. End of story.
Gurley admitted his wrongdoing, effectively forfeiting the Heisman Trophy, and he prepared to face an appropriate punishment.
But then the NCAA did what the NCAA does best — overreact and punish everyone but the real offender.
Forget that Gurley’s coach makes $3.2 million per year. Forget that the league Gurley plays for, draws ratings for, and sells tickets for, the SEC, has a $2 billion TV deal with ESPN. Even forget that this 20-year-old might want to take a girl out on a date, buy some new clothes, or just get a meal outside of the cafeteria but has no way to earn extra money since he works 80-hour weeks making his school, his coach, and his league more money than some nations’ GDPs.
Forget all of that, because what we are dealing with is an athletic league acting as judge, jury, and executioner on a kid who made a few bucks selling his autograph — an act that does not violate American law and has absolutely no impact on the “competitive balance” of college football.
Yet on October 9, the NCAA suspended Gurley for four games and denied his appeal of this excessive punishment.
Mind you that under the NCAA’s infinite wisdom, accepting impermissible benefits valued at more than $700 is equivalent to a four game suspension. Seriously, this is a multi-billion dollar per year business and the NCAA is equating one-third of the season to $700.
Not only has Gurley’s suspension showcased the worst of the NCAA cartel, but it has also punished everyone but the guy who really profited from Gurley’s autographs. Gurley’s suspension will likely cost him the Heisman and maybe a few draft spots. All of his teammates can now kiss their dreams of a national title goodbye thanks to Florida’s drubbing of the Gurley-less Bulldogs on Saturday. Not to mention, the university and all of its fans, are robbed of a special season because some memorabilia peddler tempted a college student with some quick cash.
So while everyone associated with Georgia football suffers from Gurley’s suspension, the memorabilia dealer, Bryan Allen, suffers no consequences.
Fortunately, Georgia’s politicians are about to strengthen an existing law doing what the NCAA never does — punish the real offender.
The Georgia legislature plans to pass a “Todd Gurley Law” as soon as possible to provide civil and possibly criminal penalties against those who induce college athletes to accept impermissible benefits.
Georgia is already one of the few states with a law that provides a civil cause of action for public and private colleges against anyone “who engages in any activity concerning student-athletes that results in the institution being penalized, disqualified, or suspended from participation in intercollegiate athletics by a national association for the promotion and regulation of intercollegiate athletics, by an athletic conference or other sanctioning body, or by reasonable self-imposed disciplinary action taken by such institution to mitigate sanctions likely to be imposed by such organizations as a result of such activity.” O.C.G.A. § 20-2-318.
The college or university is entitled under Georgia law to “recover all damages which are directly related to or which flow from and are reasonably related to such improper activity and to such penalties, disqualifications, and suspensions. Damages shall include, but not be limited to, loss of scholarships, loss of television revenue, loss of bowl revenue, and legal and other fees associated with the investigation of the activity and the representation of the institution before the sanctioning organizations in connection with the investigation and resolution of such activity.” Id. Additionally, if the college wins, then it can also recover court costs, costs of litigation, and reasonable attorney’s fees.
The higher education institution may also request and the court may enter “an injunction against any person found liable from having any further contact with the institution, its student-athletes, and student-athletes who have expressed or might express an interest in attending the institution and from attending athletic contests, exhibitions, games, or other such events in which one or more of the institution’s student-athletes is participating.” Id.
The Georgia law, as it stands now, exempts gifts or benefits up to $250 from members of a student-athlete’s immediate family, which includes parents, siblings, step-parents, aunts, uncles, and first cousins.
With such stiff civil penalties for non-family members, it is no wonder that Mr. Allen has hired high-profile Atlanta attorney, Ed Garland. Attorney Garland represented former Baltimore Ravens linebacker Ray Lewis, former NHL all-star Dany Heatley and rapper T.I. in high-profile criminal cases.
Now that the NCAA’s iron-fisted punishment has robbed Georgia of a national title, SEC title, a Heisman trophy, and more than likely a senior year for Gurley, expect the state’s politicians to strengthen O.C.G.A. § 20-2-318 to provide criminal penalties, as well as potential civil causes of action, for the student-athletes harmed by those trying to profit from their naivete.
If only the state of Georgia could create a cause of action against the NCAA for bone-headedness and hypocrisy.
Special thanks to Ryan Becker, Esq. for the tip on this proposed law.