Covering The Legal Scene

During my junior year at the University of Iowa, I faced a crossroads in my academic career. As a journalism and history major, I had a choice: pursue a career in sportswriting with my journalism degree, or buckle down on my history major, pump up my grade-point average and go to law school.

Boy, did I ever make the wrong choice.

Make no mistake–I'm glad I busted into the high-stress, low-pay world of sports journalism. But considering the direction the college sports world is turning these days, I sure could use a prestigious law degree in my back pocket.

These days, college sports has become awash in a complex jumble of legalese, motions, suits and stolen-file scenarios straight out of a John Grisham novel.

The alleged assault and robbery against Memphis lawyer Phillip Shanks, who represents former Alabama assistants Ronnie Cottrell and Ivy Williams in a $60 million lawsuit against the NCAA and other various parties, was only the latest twist and turn of Alabama sports fit more for Court TV than ESPN.

Think about it:  Since 2000, outside of Mike DuBose, have any of the major players in the passion play that is Crimson Tide football stayed off of the legal docket in one way or another?

Disassociated booster Logan Young has a federal case pending against him in Memphis for his role in the Albert Means case.

Fellow disassociated boosters Ray Keller and Wendell Smith both have suits pending against the NCAA and other parties for the hits their reputations took in Alabama's case against the NCAA.

Cottrell and Williams have the most high-profile case, of course; Shanks, fiery Montgomery lawyer Tommy Gallion and a group of lawyers known as "Team Cottrell" have dropped and added a host of plaintiffs in their never-ending quest for justice against the NCAA.

Gallion has been particularly outspoken against the NCAA and Tennessee Coach Phillip Fulmer, citing what he believes was a conspiracy between the parties to destroy Alabama football.

He's done a pretty good job of uncovering said conspiracy, too, pushing to daylight Fulmer's "confidential" interview with the NCAA connected to the Alabama investigation that linked Fulmer and former recruiting analyst Tom Culpepper.

He's also established that the NCAA and the SEC suppressed problems concerning Means and several other recruits from Alabama officials until it was too late, through depositions of former defendants Gene Marsh and Marie Robbins (both Alabama compliance employees).

Even Dennis Franchione got in on the act; a deposition Gallion took for the case revealed that Franchione felt he couldn't function at Alabama thanks to the serious NCAA sanctions on the program, which helped lead him to Texas A&M following the 2002 season.

Of course, some suits are easier for Alabama fans to follow than others.

Deposed Tide football coach Mike Price unleashed a pair of $20 million suits on UA, UA President Robert Witt and Sports Illustrated after he was fired last May for his conduct on a Florida golf trip.

Judges eventually ruled that Price's suit against Witt and UA had no merit since he never signed his $1 million per year contract, but his libel and defamation case against SI rages on.

A recent deposition of UA Athletics Director Mal Moore recently revealed that Price had to use Viagra to "perform" in the bedroom, which might contradict SI's story of Price's "aggressive sex" with two women in his Pensacola hotel room, since Price admitted he was intoxicated on the night in question, which probably cost him his job.

Sounds like the only place that case is "rollin, baby" is into jury selection. You know, some newspapers are hiring recruiting writers. Others are hiring sports business writers.

Papers in this state should add legal writers to the payroll; it's a job unto itself.

But since that probably won't happen, it's up to me and my fellow scribes to juggle depositions and dunks, touchdowns and torts for the foreseeable future.

Makes me wish I paid better attention in my "Law and Media" class in college. They told us it would be our most important class, which I promptly laughed off while breezing my way to a B-minus the first semester of my senior year.

Now, I've realized that legal mania is just part of today's sports culture. But it seems worse here than in other parts of our fair sports nation.

With Friends and Frasier gone, NBC has a few holes in its lineup. Might I suggest Law and Order: Tuscaloosa?

There's enough juicy stuff on the UA campus alone to keep them busy for three seasons.

Enough, in fact, to make me wish I'd taken that law-school entrance exam. Such is life in the Crimson Nation, at least for the foreseeable future.

Greg Wallace is the Alabama beat writer for the Birmingham Post-Herald and writes a weekly column for BamaMag.com


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