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November 4, 2009

Column: It's time to call out the Gators

Wednesday morning, as part of the conference call all Southeastern Conference football coaches must participate in with media, Florida's Urban Meyer was asked about what the SEC officials told him regarding a possible late hit Georgia linebacker Nick Williams made on Tim Tebow.

Meyer said he didn't want to overstep his bounds considering the recent changes to the SEC's discipline policy, but then did by saying he thought it should have been a penalty that officials missed.

With that, just about every non-Florida fan in the conference had the same thought: "Are you freaking kidding me?" and not because the coach would likely be penalized by the conference.

Somehow, someway, Florida completely missed the boat after television cameras caught linebacker Brandon Spikes trying to eye-gouge an opposing player during last week's 41-17 blitzkrieg of Georgia.

It was about as despicable an act as anyone's seen on a football field this season.

Imagine lying there unable to move or defend yourself, having Spikes wrench you around and then reach into your helmet to dig for the pupils.

Imagine if he actually got his fingers into the eye sockets, and then imagine something worse, that instead of a mere gouging he missed and did something far worse.

Granted, no penalty was called on the play and the incident was hard to spot with the naked eye, but that doesn't excuse any part of it. The school should have acted swiftly and didn't.

Meyer's reaction Sunday was that he would have a "very serious talk" with Spikes if it turned out that's what occurred.

Monday he took it a half-step further.

"I don't condone that," he told reporters. "I understand what goes on in football, but there's no place for that. We're going to suspend Brandon for the first half of the Vanderbilt game. I spoke to Brandon. That's not who he is. That's not who we are. He got caught up in emotion. I love Brandon Spikes."

Equally as upsetting and confusing was the lack of reaction.

"I accept responsibility for my actions and I accept the consequences of my actions," Spikes said in a release that compared to a form letter. "I would like to apologize to my team and the coaching staff and Washaun Ealey. Football is a very physical and emotional game, but there is no excuse for my actions."

"I don't think that we did anything in that game that they didn't do," said Tebow, referring to four personal fouls called against Georgia, and twice Spikes having his helmet pulled off.

The SEC said in a statement: "The Southeastern Conference has reviewed and accepted the disciplinary actions taken by the University of Florida regarding football student-athlete Brandon Spikes. The university suspended Spikes for the first half of its next game (vs. Vanderbilt, Nov. 7) for an unsportsmanlike act during the Gators' last game (vs. Georgia, Oct. 31)."

Even Ealey downplayed it, saying he didn't think Spikes shouldn't be suspended, adding that he had his eyes closed when it happened.

"He really didn't gouge my eyes," Ealey said in Athens. "He really didn't get a chance to get close to my eyes."

Wednesday, the suspension was bumped up to one game, supposedly at the suggestion of Spikes, who issued the following statement: "I don't want to be a distraction to the team. I feel like things were blowing up. I feel if I would have played it would be a big thing. I'm just trying to stay out of the way. I'm pretty sure (linebacker Ryan) Stamper's got my back and my teammates support me."

Only the damage had already been done, especially after what people remembered.
Like all the reports over the summer, when the Florida football program experienced its 24th arrest in four years.

Like last year's SEC Championship, with Spikes going after quarterback John Parker Wilson, and guard Mike Johnson lying on the field without his helmet after taking a shot to the head on an interception return. Then on the final snap end Brandon Deaderick ended up on the ground as well only to be kicked on the head by senior guard Jim Tartt, which nearly set off a brawl.

Like two years ago when Justin Britt was struck in the head by his own helmet after it was ripped off his head by Arkansas' Ernest Mitchell, who was quickly suspended a game. Meyer's inaction and half-game has people openly questioning his priorities.

Consequently, right now Florida doesn't come across as being the defending national champions or the No. 1 team in college football. Rather the Gators are being perceived as being a bunch of thugs.


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