ATHENS, Ga. (AP) -- It took 20 years for Georgia's football team to win the Southeastern Conference championship.
It took only a few months for nine players to begin selling off the most visible symbol of that accomplishment - their gold rings.
All nine, including star receiver Fred Gibson and five other projected starters, have been declared ineligible by the school until they make restitution for the rings.
A single broker bought the jewelry and put up some for auction on the popular Internet site eBay. The school has arranged to repurchase the rings, a necessary step toward restoring the players' eligibility.
"I know how long it's been since Georgia won a championship," coach Mark Richt said Thursday. "To sell the very thing that symbolized the accomplishment of the team is hurtful to me, and I'm sure to everybody who loves Georgia football."
Athletic director Vince Dooley, who won six SEC titles while coaching the Bulldogs, said he was "disappointed and perturbed" by the thought of championship rings being peddled on eBay.
"We've got to do a better job of impressing on them the value of money," Dooley said. "Even if the rings are worth a million dollars, one day that's going to be gone. But the meaning of the ring will never be gone."
Among those selling their rings: expected starters Gibson, receiver Michael Johnson, linebacker Tony Taylor, and defensive linemen Kedric Golston and Darrius Swain. Reserve cornerbacks Tim Jennings and Kenny Bailey, along with walk-on Trey Young, also were involved.
Golston went a step further, also selling his Sugar Bowl ring and the jersey he wore in the bowl. Those items were auctioned off together on eBay, drawing a winning bid of $3,500. Two of the SEC championship rings sold for $1,700 and $1,625.
The seller, who goes by the moniker "yankeescolt45" on eBay, has been contacted by the school. Officials wouldn't release his name.
Georgia isn't the only school going through a version of "Ring-gate." Florida State is investigating whether players were paid for rings, autographs and other football-related merchandise.
Gibson said he was paid $2,000 for his ring, which was valued by the school at around $350. The 10-karat gold design has the school's "G" logo in the middle, surrounded by the words "SEC Champions - 2002."
"I don't think I did anything wrong," Gibson said. "It's my ring. If I want to sell my personal ring, I should have that right. Basically, the university acts like I'm obligated to the ring. They should have just kept the ring if they're going to do it like that."
School president Michael Adams delivered a stern warning to an athletic program still reeling from scandalous reports of payoffs and academic fraud on the men's basketball team. The Bulldogs withdrew from both the SEC and NCAA tournaments, and coach Jim Harrick was forced to retire.
In addition, the football team has endured a tumultuous offseason after winning its first SEC championship since 1982. Five players, including Jennings, were suspended for at least the first two games after being charged with marijuana possession in a campus dorm.
On Wednesday, Richt announced the suspension of four more players for unspecified violations.
"My patience, the patience of the faculty, and the patience of most of our supporters is exhausted over this continuing improper behavior by athletes," Adams said. "I am disappointed and I expect corrective actions to be taken."
For now, the school is working to restore the eligibility of the nine players, who violated NCAA rules governing amateurism by selling the rings.
"It's a privilege to participate in intercollegiate athletics and receive these items," NCAA spokesman Jeff Howard said. "The athletes should cherish those and not profit from them."
But Gibson said the players were never told they couldn't sell the rings. And, frankly, he didn't understand all the fuss.
Gibson said it's not fair that the school earned millions of dollars from the championship season but the players aren't allowed to collect any outside income.
"I go to the store and see my No. 82 jersey on the shelves. What do I get paid from that? Nothing," he said. "If I can't make any money, then they shouldn't make any money, either."
Gibson said he sold his ring because his car was vandalized during a trip to Atlanta, causing around $1,000 in damage. Besides, he wasn't all that excited about getting a couple of championship rings.
"I'm glad we won and all that stuff, but to tell you the truth, I don't like rings," he said. "Those two rings were just sitting in my drawer."
The school is hopeful that the players' eligibility will be restored in time for the Aug. 30 opener at Clemson. Richt is sure to impose his own punishment, but hasn't decided if that will include suspensions.
"Is what they did foolish? Yes. Is what they did dumb? Yes," the coach said. "Are they bad people? No. All they are is young guys who used some bad judgment. We're going to discipline them for that, educate them and still love them."