By Chris Mahr
As the circus at SEC Media Days rolls on, the fair denizens of College Football Land are reminded that there’s just something more captivating about the conference compared to its counterparts.
One such aspect: Players behaving badly.
Doesn’t it feel like the six-time defending national champion-of-a-conference can also claim the unofficial title of Baddest Conference in the Land? Recent data suggests it’s a worthy title. According to ArrestNation.com, five of the SEC’s 14 schools have had two or more players arrested in 2012: Arkansas (5), Georgia (3), Florida (3), South Carolina (2) and Auburn (2).
(Missouri and Mississippi were also listed as schools with multiple athlete arrests in 2012, but specifics on who are not included.)
In the last two months alone, RB Isaiah Crowell has been kicked off the Georgia football team, Florida’s A.C. Leonard has left the program after a domestic battery charge, Tennessee TE Cameron Clear has been arrested for felony theft and Texas A&M QB Johnny Manziel was booked for disorderly conduct – which led to this epic mugshot.
But this isn’t to say that the SEC is always the conference with the most player misbehavior – even if it feels that way. In the March 2011 report commissioned by Sports Illustrated and CBS on “College Football and Crime,” only one SEC school (Arkansas) cracked the Top 10 in terms of players with police records.
But with arrests, it’s not necessarily quantity. Quality goes a long way toward burnishing a reputation.
So what are the qualitative factors that make SEC player arrests stand out so much more than those of other conferences?
The SEC is College Football’s Best Conference
It doesn’t help that crazy accomplishments in sports these days are immediately met by a wave of skepticism. In baseball, the rebuttal you hear a lot (even in the post-Steroid Era) is, “He must be juicing.” In college sports, what you tend to here is, “They must be a bunch of thugs.”
Whoever is on top in sports automatically becomes the biggest target to be taken down.
High-Profile Players Involved
In the aforementioned Sports Illustrated/CBS study, Pitt led the way with 22 players who had criminal records. They included defensive end Jabaal Sheard, running back Jason Douglas, offensive lineman Keith Coleman and defensive back Jeffrey Knox.
Um … who?
Crowell (gun charges). LSU quarterback Jordan Jefferson (battery). Florida cornerback Janoris Jenkins (fighting and resisting arrest). Arkansas quarterback Ryan Mallett (public intoxication). South Carolina quarterback Stephen Garcia (drinking — over and over).
Even if the SEC doesn’t have more total arrests than other conferences, having their most high-profile players as the ones nabbed makes it feel like a lot.
“Forgiving” SEC Coaches
It feels like Steve Spurrier gave Stephen Garcia 20 chances to clean up his act in Columbia. Thirty of Urban Meyer’s players were arrested during his tenure as Florida’s coach. Mark Richt is currently being grilled for his program running amok.
There’s something that makes SEC coaches like Spurrier, Miles, Nick Saban and (formerly) Meyer, Houston Nutt and Bobby Petrino seem a little slimier than coaches in other conferences. They just carry themselves like they can (and should) get away with anything and everything.
Hell, this isn’t just a football tradition. It’s a conference one, going all the way back to the days of LSU men’s basketball coach Dale Brown.
These coaches who are supposed to be mentors — often father figures — come across as enablers. They let their players get away with things as long as the wins are there.
So no, SEC players aren’t actually arrested more than others. It just feels that way because of the target on the conference’s collective back, the star players that are often involved and the coaches that don’t seem to be particularly bothered by it.
As for SEC fans getting arrested more than those in other conferences? Well, that’s a whole different column.
Chris Mahr is the managing editor of LostLettermen.com. His column appears Tuesdays and Thursdays. Follow him on Twitter @CMahrtian.