Todd Gurley and the NCAA: Honesty is the Worst Policy

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Sep 20, 2014; Athens, GA, USA; Georgia Bulldogs running back Todd Gurley (3) runs the ball against the Troy Trojans during the first half at Sanford Stadium. Georgia defeated Troy 66-0. Mandatory Credit: Dale Zanine-USA TODAY Sports

Dale Zanine USA TODAY Sports

The NCAA doesn’t want athletes paid because of the outdated idea of “amateurism,” even though the hypocrisy of this, while schools are raking in millions of dollars annually off these players, is so obvious that it slaps you in the face. 

The way the rules are written, if a school finds out that a player has received impermissible benefits, the school is supposed to self-police. The school is supposed to investigate the situation themselves, suspend the player themselves, and work with the NCAA to uncover as much information as possible.  According to these rules, the University of Georgia handled everything correctly during the Todd Gurley autograph fiasco.  They handled it so well that NCAA president Mark Emmert even applauded Georgia while they waited to hear back on Gurley’s reinstatement.

But Georgia and Todd Gurley were rewarded with nothing but this empty praise. They were basically given a pat on the back and told, “Thanks for being honest.  We couldn’t have done this without you.”  And the sad part is how true that is.  If Georgia does not do as they’re supposed to, then the NCAA never has enough ammunition to keep Gurley off the field for even a play.

We’ve seen the same thing (and much worse) going down at Florida State. Jameis Winston has more than twice as many autographs available online as Todd Gurley.  These autographs often show up in groups of 50+ identical items, signed in the exact same spot.  If you believe that there is even a chance that Jameis Winston didn’t get paid to sign autographs, then I have a bridge to sell you, but Florida State maintains that Winston didn’t receive payment for his signatures and are basically daring the NCAA to prove otherwise.

UGA’s compliance office was directly told about Gurley signing for money by Bryan Allen. While this didn’t happen at Florida State, there was still nothing incriminating about the pictures and video Allen provided, since there was no proof of money exchanging hands.  It was basically Johnny Manziel all over again.

The difference? Todd Gurley, Mark Richt, and the UGA Compliance Office told the truth about what happened. They did the right thing. They did the thing that every parent would tell their children to do.  Richt understands that there is much more to life than football.  Yes, he can lie and attempt to keep his best player on the field for the remainder of the season.  But what does that teach Gurley about life?  It teaches him to lie, to do whatever necessary to stay on the field.  Many coaches say it, but Mark Richt honestly cares more about helping build men than successful football players, and it showed here.

So Todd Gurley was initially suspended by UGA for two games. More than enough punishment in most people’s eyes, especially when you see Winston never receiving even a slap on the wrist for similar transgressions.

Except for the NCAA. The NCAA not only thought that he deserved two more games, but that he deserved 40 HOURS OF COMMUNITY SERVICE!  Do you realize how ridiculous this is?  Todd Gurley did not commit a crime.  He did not harm the community.  He was caught breaking a stupid rule, and the NCAA has come down on him as if he beat his pregnant girlfriend or assisted in the armed robbery of a former Marine.  All while the running back who actually beat his pregnant girlfriend and assisted in the armed robbery of a former Marine played Thursday for Florida State.

So what’s the takeaway from all of this? That you should lie to the NCAA.  There is no benefit to being honest.  The best thing to do in regards to NCAA punishment is to turn a blind eye to any transgression and let your football program run wild.

I may think the rule keeping players from getting paid for autographs is stupid, but I can at least get behind teaching people that there are consequences to their actions. Todd Gurley knew he was breaking the rules, however stupid, and Mark Richt handled this appropriately.  I have no problem with the two game suspension that Gurley has served.

At the same time, if you want a culture that promotes honesty, then honesty should be rewarded. Without Gurley’s honesty, the NCAA would have a tough time ever proving anything.  There could be absolutely no penalty.  Just look at Florida State.  Instead, the NCAA has decided that Gurley will be punished to the fullest extent possible.  They say there is “leniency” since he was paid over multiple seasons, but it’s hard to see any leniency in the punishment handed down.

The way this was handled will keep other schools from self-reporting potential violations. While there will always be schools like FSU, who are so set on winning that rules don’t matter, there are others that would be on the fence.  There are other good men who are head coaches who would want to take this situation as an opportunity to teach their star players that they are not above the rules.  But after watching the NCAA botch yet another punishment, these coaches will begin to keep their mouth shut, since their jobs very well could depend on it.

I hate that Gurley broke the rules to begin with, because there is no defense for this. Even if it was a stupid rule, it was a very clear one.  But I hate even more that the NCAA has shown that it is better to lie and cover things up than to be a man and own up to your mistakes.  I respect Gurley for his honesty, especially when he has been shown every step of the way that lying would have been his best bet to get back on the field.  But if I had any respect for the NCAA to begin with, it would be gone.  Don’t try to sell me a message of integrity when your actions show that lying is a better route to go.


Follow me on Twitter @j_thompson89

Written by Clay Travis

Clay Travis is the founder of the fastest growing national multimedia platform, OutKick, that produces and distributes engaging content across sports and pop culture to millions of fans across the country. OutKick was created by Travis in 2011 and sold to the Fox Corporation in 2021.

One of the most electrifying and outspoken personalities in the industry, Travis hosts OutKick The Show where he provides his unfiltered opinion on the most compelling headlines throughout sports, culture, and politics. He also makes regular appearances on FOX News Media as a contributor providing analysis on a variety of subjects ranging from sports news to the cultural landscape. Throughout the college football season, Travis is on Big Noon Kickoff for Fox Sports breaking down the game and the latest storylines.

Additionally, Travis serves as a co-host of The Clay Travis and Buck Sexton Show, a three-hour conservative radio talk program syndicated across Premiere Networks radio stations nationwide.

Previously, he launched OutKick The Coverage on Fox Sports Radio that included interviews and listener interactions and was on Fox Sports Bet for four years. Additionally, Travis started an iHeartRadio Original Podcast called Wins & Losses that featured in-depth conversations with the biggest names in sports.

Travis is a graduate of George Washington University as well as Vanderbilt Law School. Based in Nashville, he is the author of Dixieland Delight, On Rocky Top, and Republicans Buy Sneakers Too.