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April 7, 2011

BLOG: I'll Ask The Question Again

Three years ago, some readers of this blog became extremely upset when I authored a piece with a headline suggesting quarterback Stephen Garcia should be dismissed from the football team following his arrest for underage drinking.

Now that Garcia has been suspended for a fifth time as a result of an incident Tuesday night at a mandatory "life seminar" for USC athletes, I'll ask the question again.

Should we call him Stephen Gar-SEE-YA?

Some, of course, will say yes, insisting enough is enough and the moment has finally arrived to cut ties with the fifth-year senior QB.

I don't agree.

In my opinion, even if you stack up the five suspensions and examine them from the perspective of a totality of the circumstances, Garcia doesn't deserve to be dismissed.

Here's what should save Garcia: little, if any, of the bad behavior has resulted in injury or damage to others, save for the incident in which he keyed a professor's car shortly after arriving on campus in 2007.

You could argue, I guess, as some have, that Garcia is damaging the image and credibility of the football program. But Steve Spurrier has been around long enough to know the perception of your program is largely based on wins and losses.

If Garcia remains with the program, USC will be favored to win the SEC East. If not, they won't and will struggle to win seven games. Connor Shaw is a promising young quarterback, but he's not ready to lead the Gamecocks into the SEC wars. He might be in 2012, but not now. Not in 2011.

In short, if you're one of those people looking to run Garcia off, be careful what you ask for.

Yes, intregrity is important, but so is winning. Sometimes you just have to hold your nose while piling up the W's. That's reality in big-time college football when millions of dollars are potentially stake each time the football is kicked off.

Has Garcia acted like a knucklehead at times? Yes. Does this latest incident feed the national perception he is 23 going on 13? Yes.

But is he a thug? No. Just immature and nave.

Maybe that's why his teammates, based on their voluminous Tweeter entries late Wednesday night, appear to fully support Garcia. Obviously, most of them were witnesses when Garcia was supposedly belligerent and disruptive.

One question I's asking now is whether the people in charge of the event overreacted. If so, then Garcia's reputation cost him equally as much compared to what he actually did.

An important factor in this case is the suspension was imposed by the university and the athletic director, not the football program. No question, Eric Hyman will put strict conditions on Garcia's return and truly implement a zero tolerance policy.

In the end, Garcia should, in my opinion, be given one final ultimate do-or-die last chance. If he screws it up, then he'll be gone because he won't be able to contend he wasn't aware of the consequences.

Garcia's teammates understand their chances of winning the SEC East in 2011 rest in large part on his broad shoulders, along with Marcus Lattimore and Alshon Jeffery, of course.

While the USC football players realize Garcia has not always done what he's supposed to do nor acted in a way expected of the starting quarterback of the SEC team, he is a warrior on game day. That's why he's been able to compile almost 7,000 career passing yards.

Spurrier knows that too, which is why he's been willing to put up with Garcia's indiscretions over the last several years. Spurrier has put his neck on the line for Garcia before. Is he willing to continue doing it for another nine months?

Based on what I know, I believe the latest incident involved Garcia saying the wrong thing to the wrong person, which is why he was asked to leave the event.

As Garcia told us a couple of weeks ago, he has no one else to blame but himself for his problems that have led to the suspensions. Of course, he also promised to be smarter and guaranteed his problems were a thing of the past.

One common denominator seemingly weaving through most of the five suspensions is the reckless presence of alcohol. Has the point now been reached where it's fair and reasonable to ask if Garcia has a drinking problem? Yes.

As far I'm concerned, that's the important issue arising from this latest incident. But, in saying that, I understasnd there's a critical difference between having an alcohol problem and being an alcoholic. There's a threshold you need to cross, and I don't know if Garcia has stepped over the line. I will not speculate on that issue.

If the answer to that disturbing question is yes, Garcia needs professional help immediately, and kicking him off the football team won't solve that problem. Maybe a few weeks in May sobering up and undergoing drug and alcohol counseling will do him a world of good and, ignoring football for a moment, he can come back a different and better person.

And maybe becoming a better person will lead to Garcia becoming a better football player.


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