Houston back with Jackets despite felony charges

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.