- Edward Aschoff, ESPN Staff Writer
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It's as if Georgia just can't escape off-field storylines during the offseason.
First, we saw the spring arrests of cornerbacks Sanders Commings and Branden Smith. Then, safety Bacarri Rambo and linebacker Alec Ogletree reportedly failed drug tests. Commings is set to serve a two-game suspension, while the others are likely to miss time as well this fall.
Oh, and then there was the whole Isaiah Crowell incident that left the Bulldogs without its starting running back entering fall camp.
Then came Thursday's events. One incident could be classified as bad luck, as redshirt sophomore offensive lineman Kolton Houston was ruled ineligible because trace elements of a steroid administered after a 2009 surgery remain in his body.
The other? Well, it was another suspension, as Mark Richt announced that potential starting linebacker Chase Vasser will serve a two-game suspension to begin the year following his DUI arrest in May in Atlanta.
While the latter has to infuriate Richt, Houston's situation must be frustrating. Houston, who won the starting right tackle spot this spring, is still testing positive for the anabolic steroid 19-norandrosterone, which Georgia's medical staff says was administered to him after shoulder surgery in 2009. Georgia's staff has continued to test Houston since he first tested positive for the steroid in April 2010 and insists that he hasn't used the drug again.
Unfortunately, enough of the drug still remains in his system. Georgia pleaded its case to have the NCAA make an exception for Houston, but the NCAA said no way.
"He's been tested probably more times than anybody in the history of college football," Richt told reporters at Georgia's preseason media day Thursday. "We're 100 percent certain he has not continued to take this thing, but it's just never gotten far enough out of his system for him to be declared eligible to play."
Added Georgia associate athletic director for sports medicine Ron Courson: "My hope is to restore his eligibility as soon as we can. ... We feel like we're so close," Courson said. "He's served his penalty. Let's not quibble about two or three anagrams. There's no performance-enhancing aspect. He's paid his due."
Unfortunately, the NCAA can't make an exception for Houston. He has already escaped a lifetime ban after his second positive test, and while you have to feel for Houston, making an exception for him would open up a new can of worms for the NCAA. It doesn't want to have to deal with similar cases each year -- you never know which ones could be true or fabricated.
I'm not saying Houston's is fabricated, but were he allowed to play, what's to stop other athletes from experimenting to see if they can use a similar story to slip by the NCAA?
It also means that Georgia's line, which wasn't in the best shape exiting spring, has more concerns to work through. Though Houston had yet to play a down for the Bulldogs, he was still viewed as one of Georgia's top linemen. Richt said sophomore Watts Dantzler now moves into the starting right tackle spot. The bottom line is that this line has to accelerate its development and get some of those youngsters more prepared.
While Houston's situation is out of Richt's hands, he has to make sure that ones like Vasser's stop. This team has too much to lose and can't let boneheaded incidents slow it down.
Georgia has one of stricter discipline policies in the league, but maybe Richt has to do more because you have to wonder if some of these players don't care. If it's so strict, why do off-field incidents continue to pile up in Athens? You could argue that law enforcement there is a bit stricter, but at the end of the day it's the athletes who make these decisions.
I wouldn't blame Richt if he went to bed with his cellphone off.
Georgia has to stop the silliness or its season will be a major disappointment and, unfortunately, Richt will have to shoulder most of the blame from fans.
20hSam Khan Jr. and Derek Tyson