Houston back with Jackets despite felony charges

Updated: November 16, 2005, 8:04 PM ET
Associated Press

ATLANTA -- A Fulton County judge ordered Georgia Tech to reinstate defensive back Reuben Houston to the team Tuesday even though Houston is facing felony drug charges and has been suspended from the team all season.

The ruling from Superior Court Judge M. Gino Brogdon shocked Georgia Tech athletic director Dave Braine, who nonetheless pledged to abide by the decision.

Georgia Tech coach Chan Gailey said Houston might play as early as Saturday, when the Yellow Jackets visit No. 3 Miami.

The 22-year-old Houston, a two-year starting cornerback with seven career interceptions, was arrested June 21 in Atlanta in connection with a marijuana distribution operation based in California. According to a criminal complaint filed in Fresno, Calif., Houston conspired to possess and distribute about 100 pounds of marijuana, which has a street value of about $60,000.

At the time, Houston was suspended from the team and from the school, but while appealing those suspensions he was allowed back into school and granted the room and board privileges given other scholarship athletes.

"My decision, upheld by the athletic board, is Reuben had violated a student-athlete code of conduct by being charged with the felony and in so doing he should not be able to play," Braine said Tuesday.

According to Braine, Houston's appeal of the suspension was denied by Georgia Tech's student affairs office less than a month ago, and Houston had to leave school.

However, Houston continued to seek legal relief and he was readmitted to school on Thursday, according to Braine. Brogdon's court order means Houston also must be reinstated to the team.

"I feel compelled to say that this decision will send shock waves through college athletics programs around the country," Braine said. "Playing college football, especially at a school like Georgia Tech, is a privilege, not a right. We must be able to set standards of conduct for our student-athletes, and we must be able to enforce and maintain discipline."

In the order, Brogdon wrote his ruling came despite having "wariness and trepidation regarding inappropriate judicial scrutiny and interference with the operation, management and administration of an educational institution."

Brogdon said Georgia Tech's decision to expel Houston, then readmit him but exclude him from football "was arbitrary and strikingly dissimilar to the school's treatment of other similarly situated athletes who have been accused of breaking the law."

An openly incredulous Braine questioned the basis for the judge ruling that Tech had used uneven standards with Houston.

"I don't know how you can read into that because we've never had a felony charge before," Braine said. "How it could be uneven, I don't know."

Houston was with the team, but not in uniform, during Tuesday's practice. "He ran a little bit today," Gailey said.

Houston is expected to join practice Wednesday.

Gailey said he discussed the court order with the team and cautioned against it becoming a distraction. Gailey said Houston may be able to make an immediate, but limited, contribution on special teams and even on defense.

"I think first there will be an evaluation process of where he is physically and mentally," Gailey said. "If he is capable, we might spot play him on defense and on special teams. … I'm worried about his conditioning more than anything else."

Added Gailey: "My responsibility in this whole thing is to treat him just like I would any other player."

Houston was not available for comment Tuesday, and Georgia Tech sports information director Allison George said Houston would not be available to reporters this week.


Copyright 2005 by The Associated Press