Source: Bulldogs worry others may be watching practice

ATHENS, Ga. -- Georgia's Mark Richt has closed practice to the media for the first time in his seven years as a head coach as the No. 22 Bulldogs prepare for Saturday's game at No. 16 Alabama.

Claude Felton, Georgia's senior associate athletics director for external affairs, said Richt closed the practices because the coach "wanted to have a week of practice with no distractions and for his players to be able to focus on the field and their practice responsibilities."

But a Georgia official with knowledge of Richt's decision said the Bulldog coaching staff made the decision to close practices because they feared others might have been watching practice without their knowledge.

Georgia's practices are usually open to reporters and photographers for the first 30 minutes.

"It's the Belichick rule," the Georgia official said. "We've been skunked in the past. We know it because of the way some teams have reacted to our [offensive] plays in a few games. We're trying to make sure it doesn't happen again."

Richt's decision comes a week after New England Patriots coach Bill Belichick was accused of spying tactics during his team's 38-14 win over the New York Jets on Sept. 9. During the game, the Patriots had a video camera aimed at Jets coaches, which was confiscated from a New England employee during the first quarter.

NFL commissioner Roger Goodell fined Belichick $500,000 and the team $250,000 for violating a league rule which prohibits teams from using videocams on the sidelines. New England also will have to forfeit a first-round draft choice in 2008 if it makes the playoffs this season, or second- and third-round selections if it misses the playoffs.

Alabama coach Nick Saban, in his first season coaching the Crimson Tide, worked four seasons as Belichick's defensive coordinator with the Cleveland Browns from 1991-94.

Ironically, Saban's team was accused of stealing the Patriots' signals last season when he was coach of the Miami Dolphins, but the NFL found no evidence of wrongdoing.

"We were never accused of that, that I'm aware of, and we never did it," Saban said Monday, during his weekly news conference in Tuscaloosa, Ala. "We didn't have a video camera or tapes. We never got anybody's signals. We had someone watching their signals, but we were never smart enough [to do it]."

Mark Schlabach covers college football for ESPN.com.