Making the Case

They are twins, but they're hardly identical.

For the past two years or so, two cases have consumed most, if not all, of University of Alabama football fans' off the field interest: the federal government's case against disassociated booster Logan Young and former Tide assistants Ronnie Cottrell and Ivy Williams' wide-ranging, $60 million conspiracy case against the NCAA and interests of the University of Tennessee.

Both cases have a common thread – the NCAA's investigation of the Crimson Tide football program, which resulted in a five-year probation, 21 stripped scholarships over three years and a two-season bowl ban when it concluded in February 2002.

A crux of the case was the recruitment of Albert Means, which led to Young's conviction last week on federal charges of racketeering, bribery and structuring a financial transaction to evade reporting requirements in connection with a reported payment of $150,000 from Young to Trezevant High School head coach Lynn Lang, who then secured Means' services for Alabama.

Now that the Young case is over, some have wondered: just how much are these two cases related? What does Young's guilty verdict mean to the Cottrell case, currently scheduled to go to trial in mid-June?

The answer is somewhere between a lot and a little, although it's tough knowing how much they're related without direct, full access to both sides of each case and their evidence, something no reporter has or will get from any lawyer interested in protecting his client.

But while Young's conviction isn't optimal news for firebrand lawyer Tommy Gallion and the rest of the Cottrell defense team, it's hardly a death sentence.

The two cases have enough differences to keep Gallion's boundless optimism realistic as he and his team make final prep for what should be an epic trial.

First and foremost? Location, location, location.

Young's trial was held in Memphis, a college football hotspot that is a hodgepodge of southern interests including but not limited to Alabama, Arkansas, Ole Miss, Memphis and Tennessee.

It was also a federal criminal trial, making Young's burden of proof while defending himself much tougher.

Barring a last-minute change, the Cottrell/Williams trial will be held in circuit court in Tuscaloosa, which is the very definition of "home-court advantage."

In Memphis, the jury pool drew from fans of all of the aforementioned schools, plus non-football fans.

In Tuscaloosa, there'll be a few non-football fans, but they'll be joined by predominantly Alabama fans. Lawyers will likely weed out the most hardcore of those fans (as they did in Memphis), but it'll be tough seating a 12-person jury in Tuscaloosa without someone on it that doesn't have at least a casual interest in Alabama football.

Furthermore, the Cottrell trial is a civil suit, which leaves Gallion and Co.'s burden of proof lower than in federal court, but higher than that of the NCAA investigation, which did most of its work using so-called "secret witnesses."

That, in itself, is another difference between the cases.

Young's trial centered on Means' recruitment, and the feds showed that he made 64 withdrawals from his checking account for nearly $300,000 from August 1999 through October 2000, while Lang deposited $47,000 in smaller payments, all less than $10,000, during that time.

An FBI analyst testified that there were 13 instances where Young withdrew a significant amount and Land made a significant deposit within one business day. It also showed the two made 59 phone calls between each other during that time.

Williams, by the way, made approximately 200 calls to Young during that time period. He denied talking recruiting with Young, but allowed that the calls could have been discussing his mother, who was very ill at the time. If anything, that fact paints the picture of Young as a booster who was far too closely connected to the program.

That said, it might be tough for Gallion to prove that Young was part of the "conspiracy" between the NCAA and Tennessee to "destroy" Alabama football.

But his case is much wider than Young and the Means fiasco. It envelops secret witnesses, Phillip Fulmer, what the NCAA allegedly knew about violations by Tennessee and other schools, and if it turned a blind eye toward said violations.

In the Young case alone, testimony said that seven schools were in the Means chase, including Arkansas (which allegedly offered Lang a job that would pay $85,000 if Means came aboard and $150,000 if both Means and Trezevant teammate Leonard Burress signed with the Hogs.) Former Georgia coach and current ESPN analyst Jim Donnan was also accused of paying Lang $700 cash for a chance at Means.

Donnan and Arkansas assistant Fitz Hill both denied making the payments/offers later in the trial.

But their testimony raises an interesting question: if there were other schools involved in Means' recruitment, what did they really offer? What did they pay, if anything? And why wasn't the NCAA interested in chasing them, if there was anything to chase?

Gallion hopes to show that other schools were doing wrong while the NCAA looked the other way – primarily Fulmer and Tennessee.

His case will work if he can produce credible evidence that the Vols were committing violations, especially in areas other than the Means case, given Young's conviction. He also must prove beyond a reasonable doubt that a real-life conspiracy took place between the NCAA and UT.

If he doesn't, then Cottrell and Williams will likely walk away empty-handed.

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