The news was much harsher than Bama's compliance officials had expected. But after delivering the bad news in person to his players, Franchione set about immediately to deal with the all-too real problems. "I knew when I came here that we had work to do," he said. "In the middle of a game, game plans have to adjust. And we have to adjust ours a little bit. But at least it's more defined right now.
"Every program around America, and those that I've ever been in, has certain (problems) to deal with. Certainly we have our circumstances here. Our work is now going to require a little more effort. We're going to need to be more efficient, which we plan on being."
Alabama had previously offered up significant self-imposed penalties. But the committee decided to pile on additional sanctions, including extra scholarship reductions and a two-year bowl ban. "The biggest thing is we've moved beyond the vagueness," Franchione said. "Before, we've been working in generalities. We had some thoughts about what it might be, but we didn't know. Once you have definition, you can start to proceed forward to develop a plan. We haven't formulated our five-year plan yet, but our direction is defined. We know what we're working toward."
The Tide had offered up a reduction of 15 scholarships over three years, but the committee increased that number to 21. Franchione commented; "It's the difference in six more scholarshipped players on your team. Your depth is impacted. It means you can't make a recruiting mistake or two."
Alabama's total scholarships for the next three seasons were also reduced from 85 to 80. But interestingly, Franchione believes that number will be manageable. "I had an anticipation that we might go to 80," he said. "I don't want to say that any penalty is not significant. But so often in recruiting today, by the time all (the signees) show up you might not be much above 80. We've been at 82 or 81 this year. I don't know if that is as big a penalty as the 21."
But while Franchione believes Alabama can handle the smaller squad in the second and third year of sanctions, he strongly objects to its impact this coming season. With 17 new signees arriving in September, the NCAA is essentially telling Alabama to run off one or two players.
27 Dec 2001: Dennis Franchione Head Coach of Alabama raises the Independence Bowl trophy after defeating Iowa State. Because of their benefit to his players, Franchione's top priority for the legal maneuvering is a repeal of Bama's bowl ban. (AllSport, Ronald Martinez/Getty Images)
"I don't know if I'm really supposed to say this, but I think the 80 limit for next year is unfair," Franchione stated. "We self-imposed 17 scholarships for this class, and they didn't come in and say ‘OK, you've got only 14.' They weren't going to take away from that number. I wasn't going to one of our signees and say ‘Well, we've got to take your scholarship away, because of the NCAA.' They wouldn't do that. And I think regarding the 80 limit next year, there should have been some thought process about that."
Even assuming a low number of 81 players currently on scholarship, subtracting 15 departed seniors while also adding 17 new fall signees would leave Alabama three grants above the limit. "That's assuming no attrition," Franchione explained. "And of course that's not going to happen. There is always some attrition where someone is injured or something else. But otherwise it could be a problem."
Though the bowl ban might hurt the team by prompting some rising juniors and seniors to transfer, the sanctions probably won't have their worst effect until the 2004 season. "I hope it doesn't have an immediate impact, but we'll see who we actually line up with in the fall," Franchione said. "I think that the conventional wisdom could be right. If you look at a Miami or other schools that have experienced similar situations, that has happened.
"Of course it's our job as coaches to try to prove that (assumption) wrong."
After taking all the time allowed to consider their options, this afternoon Alabama officials filed official notice with the NCAA that The University intends to appeal the sanctions. "I'm not going to worry about that a lot," Franchione said. "I don't have that much control over it. I've got to keep leading this program. I've got to keep getting these guys ready for spring practice."
Franchione did communicate to the legal team his top priority--a reversal of the bowl ban, which he judges as punitive to his players. He explained; "They've been very good about consulting with me and talking about things. I am as much a part of the behind-the-scenes discussions as I want to be."
But don't expect Franchione to be spending his time poring over legal briefs. His primary responsibilities lie elsewhere. "I gave input in regard to what we would like to get back," he said. "But how we go about it and what we say, I don't want to be involved. I don't know much about it, and I don't want to.
"I'm just here to fix it."