Georgia Tech announced Thursday that it has withheld Josh Okogie and Tadric Jackson from regular-season competition as it awaits a ruling from the NCAA. What does that mean, exactly?
Q: What did they do?
A: Okogie and Jackson were found to have received apparel, meals and transportation from an individual who is neither an employee of the Tech athletic department nor a booster. Tech’s internal investigation found that Okogie’s benefits were valued at less than $750, while Jackson’s were valued at less than $525.
According to a school news release, coach Josh Pastner became aware of the possible violations Oct. 2 and immediately reported them to the athletic department’s compliance office, which determined Oct. 6 that violations had indeed occurred, declared Jackson and Okogie ineligible and contacted the NCAA.
Q: How long will they be suspended?
A: As of Thursday evening, it had yet to be determined. The NCAA has guidelines for the length of suspension based on the amount of benefits received. Okogie’s total calls for a suspension of nine games (30 percent of the regular season), while Jackson’s calls for six (20 percent). However, in reporting the rules violations to the NCAA, Tech also presented what it believed was evidence that mitigates the violations.
It’s conceivable that the suspensions might be shorter than the guidelines. That said, the fact that Tech chose not to send Okogie and Jackson to China for the season opener against UCLA indicates that school officials expect there to be at least some suspension.
Q: The individual who provided the gifts wasn’t a booster. Why is that a problem?
A: One of the NCAA’s bedrock principles, albeit one that is being hotly debated within the college sports industry, is amateurism. As the Division I manual states, “student-athletes shall be amateurs in an intercollegiate sport, and their participation should be motivated primarily by education and by the physical, mental and social benefits to be derived.”
As such, receiving tangible benefits for one’s athletic prowess would be a violation of that principle, although the NCAA has exceptions, such as grants from the U.S. Olympic Committee to medal winners in the Olympics and world championship events. Tech found Okogie and Jackson to have been in violation of NCAA bylaw 220.127.116.11.6, which covers preferential treatment, benefits or services offered “because of the individual’s athletics reputation or skill or pay-back potential as a professional athlete.”
Q: Okogie is injured and can’t play anyway. Can he serve his suspension while injured?
A: Yes, he can.
Q: Are the Yellow Jackets’ chances doomed?
A: Let’s say Jackson is suspended for six games and Okogie nine. Here are the games they would miss:
Jackson: UCLA, Bethune-Cookman, Texas-Rio Grande Valley, North Texas, Northwestern, Grambling.
Okogie: The aforementioned six plus Tennessee, Wofford and Florida A&M.
For Tech’s NCAA Tournament hopes, it would be a pretty severe hit. Let’s say Tech goes 9-9 in the ACC, which many would consider a highly acceptable outcome for a team that is so young. Particularly given for the number of low-RPI teams on the non-conference schedule, the Jackets would probably want to be in the range of at least 20 or 21 wins going into the ACC Tournament, which would mean they would have to have won 11 or 12 of their 13 nonconference games.
Beating the likes of Bethune-Cookman or Grambling without Okogie and Pastner would seem doable, particularly if freshmen such as Jose Alvarado and Moses Wright continue to show the improvement that they’ve demonstrated thus far. But it’s no certainty. Remember Tech almost lost last season to North Carolina A&T, a team that won only three games all season. This is a team that almost certainly will be stronger in February than it is in November, particularly without Okogie and Jackson to shoulder the scoring load.
Consider the lineup Pastner used Thursday night against Faulkner: Ben Lammers at center, Wright and Abdoulaye Gueye at the forward spots and Alvarado and Curtis Haywood at the guard spots. If Pastner used that lineup against UCLA, that would be three freshmen (Wright, Alvarado and Haywood) and a junior who averaged 1.2 points last season along with Lammers against a team that won 31 games last season.
Regardless, trying to at least split with UCLA (picked to finish third in the Pac-12) and Northwestern (picked fourth in the Big Ten) without two of their three returning scorers would seem a significant undertaking. Also, Tennessee is not expected to be strong, but asking the Jackets to beat the Volunteers without one of their two best players (Okogie) would again be a tall order.
There’s certainly the possibility that Tech could pull a surprise and beat UCLA or Northwestern without Okogie and Jackson to give its NCAA Tournament candidacy an early boost. The Jackets showed the ability to be greater than the sum of their parts last year. But it would be a surprise if they could do it.