A letter to the SEC commissioner

Here’s my letter I faxed to the SEC Commissioner, Mike Slive, last night regarding Richt’s team storming the field vs. Florida.

Mr. Mike Slive, Commissioner

Southeastern Conference

2200 Richard Arrington Jr. Blvd. North

Birmingham, AL 35203-1103

Commissioner Slive:

I have read the letter of apology by Coach Mark Richt and the statement that the Southeastern Conference considers the matter of Coach Richt’s team storming the field after a first quarter touchdown in Saturday’s Florida-Georgia game a closed matter.

While I believe that you are a fair man and that you have been an outstanding commissioner of the SEC, I am quite concerned with the

message you are sending here.

First, let me state that I do not believe that Georgia storming the field altered the outcome of the game one bit. Georgia played a fine football game and won, fair and square. However, when Georgia’s players ran on the field a dangerous precedent was set and I find it appalling the lack of concern here. I find Coach Richt’s letter of apology somewhat of a joke considering his statements at the half and post-game.

I know what I saw with my binoculars from the press box and I do not accept Coach Richt’s explanation. There was nothing spontaneous about this demonstration. It was pre-planned and all you had to do was watch the way Coach Richt and his assistants reacted.

I believe we are extremely fortunate that a brawl did not break out. I’ve been at Florida-Georgia games since 1962 and I know the hair-trigger emotions both on the field and in the stands. One ill-timed remark, one bump of a Georgia player into a Florida player and we could have very easily had an on the field incident that would have made Miami-Florida International look like something you see on Sesame Street. It is only by God’s grace and the restraint of the Florida coaches, who prevented the UF team from charging the field by their quick, positive response, that there was no incident on the field.

This demonstration could not have happened without prior approval and planning of Coach Richt. Otherwise, the coaches would have instantly reacted to stop it when they saw their players running on the field. I’ve watched enough college football games over the last 40 years to know that coaches INSTINCTIVELY react to stop their players from rushing the field because they are aware of the volatile, intense on the field atmosphere.

And, having seen the 1998 incident in Tallahassee when Florida played Florida State — and Coach Richt was on that FSU staff — there is no way that I can accept Coach Richt’s explanation for what happened Saturday.

There is also a rules issue to consider here. The NCAA football rules say that a flagrant unsportsmanlike conduct will result in ejection from the game. This was about as flagrant flaunting of the rules I’ve ever seen. There were no ejections.

I believe the SEC dodged a dangerous, ugly bullet Saturday. I shake to think what might have happened. What would Coach Richt be saying if a full-scale braw had erupted and a player swung a helmet, striking someone in the face or on the skull? An “I’m sorry” wouldn’t have cut it. Yet, you know as well as I, Commissioner Slive, that any time 70 players leave a bench in a game with this kind of highly charged, emotional atmosphere, there is potential danger.

Having sat in the stands and the press box for all these years of Florida-Georgia games, I can tell you that if a brawl had erupted on the field, you might have seen something far worse going on in the stands. There is a reason this game was dubbed “The World’s Largest Outdoor Cocktail Party.”

By not taking a strong stand here, I believe the Southeastern Conference sets a horrible precedent. What is to stop some coach in some other conference — or even the SEC — from sending out players during a game in the future? If there is only the fear of a milquetoast response, hardly even a slap on the wrist, then why not take a chance?

But what happens when that chance turns ugly and a brawl erupts?

If the SEC is as serious and concerned about player and fan safety as the press releases tell us, then I believe something other than acceptance of a rather weak apology seems more appropriate.

Southeastern Conference football is the best college football in the country. I believe you have done a marvelous job of cleaning up the conference during your time on the job. I do believe that if this matter is closed and a weak apology is all we get for a potentially dangerous situation that could have compromised the safety of 140 football players and 84,000 football fans, then the SEC has set a dangerous precedent.


Franz Beard, Managing Editor


Franz Beard
Back in January of 1969, the late, great Jack Hairston, then the sports editor of the Jacksonville Journal, called me on the phone one night and asked me if I wanted to work for him. I said yes. The entire interview took 30 seconds. It's my experience that whenever the interview lasts 30 seconds or less, I get the job. In the 48 years that I've been writing and getting paid for it, I've covered Super Bowls, World Series, NCAA basketball championships, BCS championship games, heavyweight title fights and what seems like thousands of college football, baseball and basketball games. I'm a columnist and special assignments editor for Gator Country once again, writing about the only team that ever mattered to me, the Florida Gators.