ATHENS — The NCAA said Wednesday that Georgia star running back Todd Gurley must sit out until Nov. 15 for accepting more than $3,000 for autographed memorabilia and other items over a two-year period.
The school applied for Gurley's reinstatement after he missed the last two games while the school investigated allegations of improper benefits.
But, in a decision sent to Georgia late Tuesday afternoon, the NCAA said that Gurley must serve a four-game suspension, or 30 percent of the season, for accepting cash from multiple individuals. The NCAA also said Gurley had to repay a portion of the money to a charity of his choice and perform 40 hours of community service.
The NCAA did not specify how much of the money Gurley would have to repay or a deadline for him to comply with that part of the penalty. It said it will work with the university to "determine an appropriate date for completion of the community service hours."
No. 9 Georgia said it would appeal the ruling immediately, still hoping to get Gurley back for Saturday's Cocktail Party rivalry game against Florida on Saturday.
"We can only control certain things," coach Mark Richt said Wednesday. "My goal is to control how well we practice and how hard we prepare. That's been our focus all season long, and maybe a little bit more the last couple of ballgames. There are questions and things swirling around that could become a distraction. But I think our players have done a really good job of only worrying about things they can control."
If the suspension is upheld, Gurley would not be able to play against the Gators or a Nov. 8 game at Kentucky, effectively ending his Heisman Trophy hopes. But he would be allowed to return for a huge Southeastern Conference home game against No. 4 Auburn in 2 1-2 weeks.
"In determining the appropriate reinstatement conditions, a 30 percent withholding condition is consistent with precedent in similar cases," the NCAA said in a statement.
Former Georgia receiver A.J. Green received a four-game suspension in 2010 after acknowledging he sold a bowl jersey for $1,000. The NCAA said tougher penalties against Gurley were "strongly considered because the violations occurred over multiple years with multiple individuals and the student received extensive rules education about the prohibition of receiving payment for autographs. However, the university's due diligence in its investigation and the student's full disclosure of his involvement in the violations were factors in not imposing a more severe withholding condition."
Gurley was considered one of the leading Heisman contenders when he was indefinitely suspended less than 48 hours before a game at Missouri. He has rushed for 773 yards and eight touchdowns, averaging 8.2 yards per carry; ranks third on the team with 11 receptions; returned a kickoff for a 100-yard TD; and even completed Georgia's longest pass of the season, a 50-yarder.
The Bulldogs (6-1, 4-1 SEC) carried on just fine without Gurley. Freshman Nick Chubb starred in a 34-0 rout of Missouri and a 45-32 victory at Arkansas, combining for 68 carries, 345 yards and three touchdowns.
Now, it appears Chubb will have to carry the offensive load for at least two more games.
When the school applied for his reinstatement last week, Gurley released a statement saying he took "full responsibility for the mistakes I made," and added that he was "looking forward to getting back on the field with my teammates."
Richt said he had no indication that Gurley, a junior widely expected to be one of the top picks in next year's NFL draft, would not complete the season even if he planned to give up his final season of eligibility.
"I don't think there's any doubt Todd is going to finish with honor and have a great finish to his career here at Georgia, whenever it ends," the coach said.
Gurley's suspension raised questions over rules barring college players from receiving money for their autograph or likeness at a time when the major conferences are pushing to increase the benefits that athletes receive.
Florida State has been reviewing whether Heisman-winning quarterback Jameis Winston received improper benefits from a large number of his autographs being sold online. Unlike Georgia, the Seminoles have allowed Winston to continue playing during the investigation, saying there is no evidence of wrongdoing.
An NCAA committee that oversees the reinstatement process will consider Georgia's appeal this week. The panel can reduce or remove the sanctions imposed by the staff but cannot increase them. Gurley will not have to complete the entire 40-hour community service requirement before returning to the field.
Georgia quarterback Hutson Mason said Gurley's uncertain status over the past three weeks did not change the way the team went about its business.
Gurley has continued to practice with the Bulldogs during his suspension, with Chubb getting the bulk of the work with the first-teamers.
"We've grown accustomed to basically preparing for (Gurley) not being in there, even though he's getting a few reps in practice," Mason said. "You've got to prepare with the guys you know you're going to battle with."
Embattled Florida coach Will Muschamp said the Gators (3-3, 2-3) would continue preparing for Saturday's game the same way, even though Gurley has been ruled out.
"He's an outstanding football player, as good a player as there is in college football, maybe one of the best who's ever played in our league," Muschamp said. "But Nick is a good player, too."