The first week of LSU preseason camp has not been the central office for good news.
Before practice even began last Saturday, coach Ed Orgeron announced that starting right guard Ed Ingram was suspended. This is for something Ingram did to run afoul of university regulations, as Orgeron said it was a matter out of his hands. That makes Ingram’s return a much more difficult proposition than if it were something the football program could handle on its own.
Then came the bizarre saga of backup linebacker Tyler Taylor, suspended Wednesday after The Advocate learned he was arrested in May. Police in Cumming, Georgia, said he the getaway car in a pawn-store burglary on Jan. 8. Taylor did not tell LSU of his legal entanglements, the athletic department said. Apparently, he hoped his legal issues would all melt away in the August heat or somehow go unnoticed.
By Thursday night, Orgeron had to be praying his Tigers could catch a break with the lifting of cornerback Kristian Fulton’s two-year suspension. They did not. The NCAA upheld the suspension, though Fulton’s lawyer has promised to pursue other options to change the outcome in his client’s favor.
Try they might for some sort of Hail Mary reprieve, but it is likely Fulton has played his last down for LSU. He will be three years out of high school by next spring, which will make him eligible to be selected in the NFL draft or be signed by a team as a free agent. One would imagine he will take his chances to impress NFL coaches and scouts at tryouts and put his truncated college career well behind him.
The penalty against Fulton was exceptionally harsh. It will probably be, as Fulton’s attorney Don Jackson aptly described it, a “career-ender” on the collegiate level. Had Fulton merely flunked a drug test, he would have already served a one-year suspension and would likely start opposite Greedy Williams at the other cornerback spot Sept. 2 against Miami.
Instead, LSU is left where it was before, searching for the next-best option from among a handful of players like Kelvin Joseph, Kary Vincent, Terrence Alexander and Jontre Kirklin.
Fulton broke the rules as they were in place. Thinking he would be tested for marijuana — Keith Fulton told Sports Illustrated his son smoked two days before the Feb. 2, 2017, drug test — Fulton tried to pour someone else’s urine into a testing container. He was caught by the test administrator Jason Shoemake, who then saw Fulton dump out the container and begin to fill it with his own sample.
Jackson argued there should have been a new container for the urine sample per NCAA rules, a violation of protocol. He argued Fulton should have been punished under NCAA Bylaw 3.3, which governs athletes who attempt to alter the collection process but was instead punished under Bylaw 3.4, which involves a case of observed drug test sample tampering.
Jackson told The Advocate after the hearing the breach in NCAA drug-testing protocol was basically dismissed by the committee hearing the appeal. They focused on the bylaws instead.
In other words, they held Fulton to the letter of the law and upheld his punishment accordingly.
As the old saying goes, there is what is legal and there is what is right. The NCAA’s rules may be somewhat contradictory, its punishment for this transgression heavy-handed and its legendary unwillingness to be flexible still undefeated.
But in the end, it is not surprising that Fulton’s suspension drags on.
The most painful part for LSU, when it comes to Ingram, Taylor and Fulton — other than the fact that the Tigers desperately need them on the field — is that their issues are 100 percent self-inflicted.
These are not practice or game injuries, which strike randomly but are certain to take a toll on every college football team.
Ingram did not have to break school rules. Taylor could have faced the consequences of his arrest and perhaps overcome them after paying some penance. And Fulton did not have to smoke marijuana nor try to use someone else’s urine for a drug test.
Yes, the NCAA drug tester did not follow protocol and the NCAA arbitrarily chose to stick with the stiffer penalty according to its bylaws rather than let Fulton off for time served and call it good. Could you imagine the NCAA doing anything else?
But however wrong or overly rigid the NCAA might be in this case, no one forced Kristian Fulton to attempt to game the drug test except himself. Ultimately, blame starts and ends with him.
But he and LSU both pay the price.