In 1995, following inexplicable penalties from the NCAA Infractions Committee, The University of Alabama elected to appeal the decision. Prior to that there had never been a successful appeal of a decision of the Infractions Committee. Stan Murphy, a staff attorney for The University, was prepared and argued that appeal and The University was rewarded by having a year of its penalties removed. Since then, there have been others who have successfully mitigated penalties assessed by the Infractions Committee.
Murphy will again lead Alabama's appeal process before the NCAA Infractions Appeals Committee, a process that will begin within about two weeks.
On Friday, the decision of the Infractions Committee against Alabama in a two-year inquiry into Alabama's football program was revealed. The verdict was far more harsh than expected, well beyond the self-imposed penalties Alabama had instituted earlier. Of greatest importance, the Infractions Committee reduced by 21 the number of football scholarships Alabama may award in the next three years. Additionally, Alabama is prohibited from bowl game participation (and, by Southeastern Conference rule, the revenue derived by member institutions from bowl games) for the next two seasons.
University of Alabama President Dr. Andrew Sorensen followed the press conference in which the penalties were revealed with a notice that Alabama would appeal the decision. Dr. Sorensen's statement:
"We at The University of Alabama are extremely disappointed by the decision released today by the NCAA Committee on Infractions. We respectfully disagree with several conclusions drawn by the committee and with the penalties imposed. It is our firm conviction that the additional penalties are not supported by violations acknowledged by the University or found by the committee. While we do not relish prolonging this process, we believe we must appeal those decisions.
"We are currently analyzing the report, so we will not discuss the details of our appeal today. But after reviewing the committee's findings, we are firm in our belief that the penalties are inappropriate. We have acknowledged inappropriate behavior on the part of a few people whom I have termed "rogue" boosters, who were clearly involved in NCAA recruiting violations, and who have thereby damaged our football program. The University took corrective measures and disassociated those three boosters from our athletics programs. However, it is extremely important to emphasize that independent of the boosters' violations, nowhere in the committee's report are there any significant findings relating to any current or former football coaching staff members or institutional staff members.
"We are particularly troubled that the mitigation defenses raised in our response to the Letter of Official Inquiry, and then again at the infractions hearing were not acknowledged or addressed in today's infractions report.
"After the infractions hearing and prior to receipt of this report, my first inclination was to ask: "Could or should we have done things differently in our response to the allegations or at the infractions hearing?" My response has always been, and remains today, even after reading this report, "No." We presented our case in a fashion that openly acknowledges violations when the evidence supported such conclusions, and contested in good faith those that did not meet the NCAA requirements.
"We move ahead today to pursue an appeal before the NCAA Infractions Appeals Committee, and have already begun a thorough analysis of the issues. We regret that we must prolong this process, but the decision we have been given today is simply unacceptable. We will focus all our efforts in presenting an appeal requesting reduction of the penalties in this case. I thank you for your attention."
While no one involved would discuss the specifics of the appeal, there are two areas in which the process could center. A school may appeal either findings or penalties or both. In the case of findings, a university may argue in three areas: that there was no violation, that no violation was proved, or that there was a procedural error. In the area of penalties, an appeal can be made on the basis of inappropriateness.
It is believed that Alabama will use the same legal team in its appeal that was involved in the investigation and defense. Faculty Chairman of Athletics Gene Marsh, a professor in The University School of Law, and Associate Athletics Director for Compliance Marie Robbins, who also has a law degree, came in for repeated praise from Tom Yeager, the chairman of the Infractions Committee who presided over the press conference Friday. They will join Murphy and Rich Hilliard, a former NCAA investigator now with the Indianapolis law firm of Ice Miller, which specializes in NCAA cases.
One area which will not be appealed is the lifetime ban placed on Alabama boosters Logan Young of Memphis, Ray Keller of Stephenson, and Wendell Smith of Chattanooga. The boosters were cited time and again by Yeager as the ones responsible for Alabama's plight.
The appeals process begins with notification that The University intends to appeal, which must be accomplished with 15 days. After a brief time for the assembly of the record (a compilation of all documents, etc.) that will be used in the appeal, The University will then have 30 days in which to make its written appeal to the Infractions Appeals Committee. At that time, the Infractions Committee will have 30 days in which to respond. The University then has 14 days in which to respond to the response of the Committee on Infractions. Shortly after that, the appeals hearing will be heard. A decision should come within a couple of months of that hearing. Although no one will go on record suggesting a total time frame, a period of six months -- by August 1 -- would seem to be reasonable.
Yeager said he had no opinion as to whether Alabama would have a successful appeal or whether the decision of the Infractions Committee would stand. "Our job was to come to a decision, and we have done that. We will defend our position. I'm sure The University will make its best argument, and we will respond." Yeager said Alabama's "repeat offender" status was the reason for the harsh penalties.