Nine must buy rings after selling last year's

Updated: December 2, 2003, 11:24 PM ET
Assoicated Press

ATHENS, Ga. -- Even if they earn SEC championship rings this weekend, nine Georgia players won't automatically get them.

They'll have to buy them this time.

No. 5 Georgia (10-2) will meet third-ranked LSU (11-1) in the Southeastern Conference championship game Saturday night. If the Bulldogs win, they'll hand out rings to the players, coaches and staff.

With one caveat: Nine players who sold their 10-karat gold rings after winning the title last season would have to pay the school to get another one.

Coach Mark Richt decided on the punishment during a clearing-the-air meeting over the summer, but details of the arrangement didn't come out until Tuesday.

The players would have to pay up to $300 -- the maximum allotted by NCAA rules -- to receive another championship ring.

"Maybe we'll cherish it a little bit more," said cornerback Tim Jennings, one of those caught in the ring-selling scandal. "Now, I know how much it means to me. I want another chance."

The others who sold their rings: receivers Fred Gibson and Michael Johnson, linebacker Tony Taylor, defensive linemen Kedric Golston and Darrius Swain, cornerbacks Bruce Thornton and Kenny Bailey and walk-on Trey Young.

"At the time, I wasn't really thinking," Gibson said. "Once I sat down and thought about it, I knew I did something wrong."

"Ringgate" came to light after the items showed up for auction on eBay, tarnishing the school's first SEC championship in 20 years.

Initially, Gibson defended his actions, saying he needed the money -- $2,000, in his case -- and should be entitled to do whatever he wanted with the ring.

The school reacted differently. University president Michael Adams expressed outrage. Athletic director Vince Dooley vowed to punish those involved. Richt said "it cheapens what we did."

Initially, the nine players were declared ineligible for violating NCAA rules. The school wanted to recover the rings and demand reimbursement from the players as a condition for being reinstated to the team.

As it turned out, the NCAA decided that its rules were unclear on the sale of championship rings and other memorabilia. The Georgia players were cleared of any wrongdoing and didn't have to repay the money they received.

Georgia did manage to recover about half the rings, which are stored in an athletic department safe, said Amy Chisholm, the school's director of compliance.

Meanwhile, the NCAA altered its rules, making it crystal clear that no one can peddle a championship ring.

A June memorandum stated: "A student-athlete shall not sell any item received for intercollegiate athletics participation or exchange such item for another item of value."

Jennings said he tried to recover his ring, but it had already been sold. He regrets his actions now.

"I didn't realize how important the ring was until it was gone," he said. "I wish I had mine. It hurts the most when you go out guys who have their rings on and I don't have mine."

Golston also peddled a Sugar Bowl ring and game jersey -- drawing a winning bid of $3,500 on eBay. While embarrassed by his actions, he doesn't consider a ring to be the ultimate symbol of Georgia's championship season.

"The ring is all fine and good," he said. "But it's a material thing. The memories far outweigh any kind of gift."

Golston was taken aback by all the attention raised by the ring-selling caper.

"I didn't know it would be that big a deal," he said. "But I can't sit here and harp on it. What do you want me to do: Cut off my ring finger?"

If Georgia wins its second straight title, all players receiving a ring would have to sign a statement acknowledging that it can't be sold, Chisholm said.

That wouldn't be necessary with Gibson.

I'll tell you one thing: I wouldn't sell it again," Gibson said. "I'm going to give it to my grandmother."