HOOVER, Ala. — The legal problems of current and former SEC players — from ex-Florida and NFL tight end Aaron Hernandez to LSU running back Jeremy Hill — cast a negative light on the league that has won seven consecutive national championships.
It also highlights the challenges — and responsibilities — facing coaches who must weigh a player's talent vs. the potential for trouble in or out of the locker room.
The biggest spotlight by far has been on Hernandez, who's pleaded not guilty to murder in the killing of Boston semi-pro football player Odin Lloyd.
More pertinent to the upcoming season is Hill's uncertain status while facing a misdemeanor simple battery charge from an April 27 scuffle in a bar parking lot.
Coaches at Southeastern Conference media days this week insisted they do their best to keep players behaving, which benefits the team, the players and the men paid millions to win in a powerhouse conference with high stakes and brutal competition.
Florida's Will Muschamp understands he can't know what every player is doing every night away from the football building. "You also can't stick your head in the sand and pretend everything is OK, either," Muschamp said.
He said coaches and staff need to know who players are hanging out with off the field.
"You're 100 percent responsible," Muschamp said. "When you sign a student-athlete to come to the University of Florida, I look at his parents, guardians, whoever is important to him in his life, tell them it's my job to be an extension of what's already happened at home. But you're 100 percent responsible for the young man. Everything that happens."
As Alabama's Nick Saban put it: "We can be the moral compass for our young people but we cannot always drive the ship. We cannot always be there to drive the ship."
In the heated arms race of recruiting, coaches also bear the responsibility for signing a player who might have had off-the-field troubles.
Mississippi's Hugh Freeze brought in one of the nation's most surprising and highly rated talent hauls in February. Weighing risk vs. reward is a factor in recruiting decisions, he said, not just whether a kid is deemed a four- or five-star talent.
"I do think you have to be very calculated in the risk you take because you're under such scrutiny and you're bringing them into your team," Freeze said. "We try to minimize the number of at-risk issues you might have, but you're going to have some. I have a gut feeling. I look at his support system, who he has and listen to him talk about what he wants to be known for. Then I have to make a decision on whether I think we can trust one another with our core values."
Alabama dismissed four players from school following their arrests stemming from two violent robberies on campus barely a month after the Crimson Tide claimed its second straight national title.
Saban said every player he has kicked off has been someone the team's leadership group felt needed to go.
"With events of today and the attention on some of the people who have been arrested in sports in the last couple of weeks, it's even going to be more critical to players' future that they make good choices and decisions," Saban said. "And they have to realize that."
Saban said Alabama has a 12-course program in behavior for success and has psychiatrists or sports psychologists talk to troubled players.
"I always talk to our players about being a blinking light," he said. "If you look at a Christmas tree, when all lights shine bright, it's beautiful. But if one light's going like this (flickering), your attention is just to that light. Nobody should be a blinking light. The players always bring that up to me: 'This guy is a strobe light, man.'"
Even the week of media days started with legal matters.
Heisman Trophy winner Johnny Manziel of Texas A&M pleaded guilty on Monday to a misdemeanor of not identifying himself to a police officer following a 2012 altercation at a bar near campus. That day, Vanderbilt's James Franklin identified four players dismissed from school in June for an incident being investigated by police as a possible sex crime.
Franklin said he and Vandy won't sign players they believe have character issues for the sake of winning.
"I can't speak for other places or other institutions but not at Vanderbilt," Franklin said. "It's never been that way in the past. It's not that way presently. It will never be in the future. That's not what we're all about."
Sometimes seemingly chancy decisions pay huge dividends, sometimes not. First-year Auburn coach Gus Malzahn has been on both sides. He helped recruit quarterback Cam Newton, who had run into legal trouble at Florida, from junior college while the Tigers' offensive coordinator. Newton won a Heisman Trophy and led Auburn to a national title.
Malzahn also signed tailback Mike Dyer at Arkansas State after the BCS championship game MVP was dismissed from Auburn. Dyer was booted from the team without playing after being caught with a gun during a traffic stop.
"You have to weigh everything," Malzahn said. "Talent. You've got to weigh character. You've got to go with your gut instincts on what type of environment you want to have for your team."
Commissioner Mike Slive called it "a crushing disappointment" when a current or former SEC athlete runs afoul of the law. He said any perception outside the league that coaches or schools don't police or discipline athletes is inaccurate.
"In some ways, it's an inverse form of flattery," Slive said. "I mean, we have about 1,800 football players. We can count on one hand the behavioral issues, but they get the headlines and the disappointments."
One of college football's biggest stars, South Carolina defensive end Jadeveon Clowney, said he avoids trouble caused by reckless Tweets or off-the-field misdeeds.
"I don't go to bars," Clowney said. "I don't drink or anything. I just stay out of trouble, stay at home. I hang out with the same group of guys I grew up with, the same three guys every day. We play games and stay out of trouble. We eat, come back and play games. Just stay in the house. You can't get in trouble in your own home, I hope."
|Golden State||11||1st Qtr 7:21|
|Oklahoma City||9:30 PM|
|Vancouver||2||2nd Prd 8:00|
|Arizona||3||2nd Prd 9:38|
|Montreal||3||2nd Prd 6:29|
|St. Louis||0||1st Prd 8:38|
|East Tenn St||73||FINAL|
|Winthrop||35||2nd Half 10:09|
|Delaware||54||2nd Half 8:14|
|Jacksonville St||48||2nd Half 5:53|
|Northeastern||51||2nd Half 5:55|
|Sacred Heart||67||2nd Half 9:50|
|Western Carolina||35||2nd Half 10:41|
|Char Southern||52||2nd Half 13:41|
|Western Ill||34||2nd Half 13:20|
|Nebraska Omaha||42||2nd Half 12:53|
|Radford||50||2nd Half 13:20|
|St Francis-NY||32||2nd Half 17:10|
|Wofford||50||2nd Half 9:24|
|Minnesota||51||2nd Half 12:11|
|High Point||56||2nd Half 12:03|
|Samford||41||2nd Half 13:25|
|Nebraska||41||2nd Half 8:48|
|Wagner||36||2nd Half 13:44|
|Mount St Marys||36||2nd Half 12:10|
|Houston||41||2nd Half 10:48|
|Vanderbilt||38||2nd Half 11:46|
|Chattanooga||47||2nd Half 10:35|
|Milwaukee||36||2nd Half 14:59|
|Coastal Carolina||32||2nd Half 13:50|
|Central Conn St||58||2nd Half 7:40|
|Ga Southern||36||2nd Half|
|SIU Edwardsville||6||1st Half 14:06|
|Green Bay||13||1st Half 10:04|
|Texas-El Paso||10||1st Half 9:50|
|FIU||13||1st Half 11:12|
|Rider||14||1st Half 11:35|
|Eastern Ill||36||1st Half 14:59|
|Charlotte||11||1st Half 10:47|
|North Dakota St||10||1st Half 7:56|
|Old Dominion||18||1st Half 11:07|
|TX-San Antonio||21||1st Half 8:50|
|UT Martin||15||1st Half 11:08|
|Fla Atlantic||19||1st Half 11:14|
|Northern Ariz||16||1st Half 11:14|
|Grand Canyon||16||1st Half 11:42|
|Utah Valley U||6||1st Half 12:50|
|Georgia State||7:45 PM|
|Tenn Tech||8:00 PM|
|Southern Utah||8:00 PM|
|Montana State||8:05 PM|
|UC Davis||9:00 PM|
|UC Santa Barbara|
|UC Irvine||9:00 PM|
|Cal State Fullerton||9:00 PM|
|Arizona State||9:30 PM|
|San Diego||10:00 PM|
|St Marys-CA||10:00 PM|
|Oregon State||10:00 PM|
|Long Beach State||10:59 PM|
|William & Mary||69||2nd Half 7:51|
|Coll of Charleston||40|
|Delaware||53||2nd Half 7:28|
|UMBC||17||2nd Half 17:12|
|UMass Lowell||51||2nd Half 11:15|
|Albany||38||2nd Half 13:41|
|Stony Brook||44||2nd Half 12:20|
|Boston College||46||2nd Half 12:00|
|(23) Syracuse||42||2nd Half 15:01|
|(16) Duke||32||2nd Half 13:30|
|Florida||24||2nd Half 16:28|
|NC State||33||2nd Half 15:52|
|(9) Florida State||51|
|Miami-Florida||48||2nd Half 8:31|
|LSU||35||2nd Half 11:49|
|(11) Miss State||33||2nd Half 14:48|
|(2) South Carolina||45|
|Fairfield||56||2nd Half 6:59|
|Marist||43||2nd Half 9:01|
|Quinnipiac||72||2nd Half 13:20|
|Virginia||42||2nd Half 15:30|
|(15) North Carolina||44|
|Pittsburgh||36||2nd Half 13:03|
|(4) Notre Dame||65|
|Ohio State||59||2nd Half 11:47|
|Massachusetts||42||2nd Half 12:28|
|(22) George Washington||47||2nd Half 13:45|
|Saint Louis||30||2nd Half 16:19|
|Wright State||61||2nd Half 8:32|
|Green Bay||51||2nd Half 10:47|
|Western Ky||61||2nd Half 12:00|
|Indiana||47||2nd Half 13:25|
|North Texas||30||2nd Half 17:47|
|Central Arkansas||31||2nd Half|
|Sam Houston St||20|
|SE Louisiana||36||2nd Half|
|Incarnate Word||8||1st Half 7:16|
|Stephen F Austin||14|
|Denver||14||1st Half 11:52|
|No Dakota State||16|
|IUPU-Ft Wayne||7||1st Half 7:59|
|IUPUI||9||1st Half 12:09|
|Lamar||16||1st Half 12:56|
|Western Ill||13||1st Half 10:33|
|South Dakota St||20|
|Missouri||0||1st Half 20:00|
|(12) Texas A&M||0|
|(13) Kentucky||7:00 PM|
|(20) Rutgers||14||1st Half 7:54|
|Southern Miss||6||1st Half 14:28|
|Wisconsin||12||1st Half 13:39|
|North Dakota||7:30 PM|
|Northern Colorado||8:00 PM|
|Eastern Washington||8:00 PM|
|(6) Tennessee||8:00 PM|
|(24) California||8:00 PM|
|(19) Stanford||8:00 PM|
|(7) Oregon State|
|Chicago State||8:00 PM|
|Utah Valley U|
|San Francisco||8:00 PM|
|Santa Clara||9:00 PM|
|Cal State Fullerton|
|UC Santa Barbara||9:00 PM|
|Long Beach St|
|Cal Poly||9:00 PM|