Bama's appeal denied

Barely a month after hearing The University of Alabama's oral arguments for relief of severe NCAA sanctions, the Infractions Appeals Committee upheld those penalties against the Alabama football program.

On Tuesday, the acting chairman of the Appeals Committee said that Alabama had failed to convince the Appeals Committee that the Infractions Committee had not been correct in its findings and penalties.

With voice quivering, Terry Don Phillips, the acting chairman of the Appeals Committee, said there was evidence supporting the findings of violations and that the penalties were not excessive or inappropriate, considering The University's status as a repeat violator, and the number, nature and seriousness of the violations. The permanent chairman of the committee, Michael Slive, recused himself from the Alabama case because he is commissioner of the Southeastern Conference.

Alabama had changed legal teams for its appeal of the penalties which had been issued February 1. The NCAA said the penalties were imposed "primarily as the result of recruiting inducements by three representatives of The University's athletics interests that included payments of large sums of cash to a prospective student-athlete and his family, and to another prospect's high school football coach."

Alabama had self-imposed the extraordinarily severe penalty of the loss of 15 scholarships over three recruiting seasons, including eight last February, four in February 2003 and three in February 2004. The Infractions Committee added the loss of six more scholarships, three each over the next two years, and also banned Alabama from post-season participation over the next two seaons (this year and 2003) and put Alabama on probation for five years. Total football scholarships were reduced from 85 to 80.

The Infractions Appeals Committee could not re-try the case, as such. Phillips explained the decision of the Infractions Committee could be overturned or modified in only certain circumstances. They are:

  • That the ruling was clearly contrary to the evidence.
  • That The University did not break NCAA rules.
  • That the penalty was excessive or inappropriate.
  • That a procedural ruling significantly affected the reliability of the findings

After saying the Infractions Committee's decisions had been upheld, Phillips said, "This case is very much about institutional cooperation. But for the unequivocal cooperation of The University, it was very clear that the death penalty most probably would have been imposed in this particular case. It is to the credit of The University and athletics administration that they actively sought out the facts of the allegations and thereby saved The University most probably the ultimate penalty.

"The University was very diligent and vigorous in this appeal, and the result today is not what they would desire. Nevertheless, the Infractions Appeals Committee found the Committee on Infractions very deliberate in how they mitigated The University's unequivocal cooperation against heavier penalties, which, again, most likely would have included the death penalty."

Among questions:

Regarding the "secret witness" and the NCAA not following its own rules, Phillips said, "In this particular case the confidential witness...was made available to The University who had the opportunity to interview the witness and determine the credibility of the witness.

"But," he added, "there was ample evidence beyond what this witness provided that supported the findings. So if you take the witness out of the picture, there is still evidence of what the Infractions Committee found."

Regarding the praise of The University's diligence by the Infractions Committee, Phillips said every case is different. "The University has shown it is very diligent, but in this case it is a repeat violator. If you distinguish this case against the one other case where this case was applied, you will see where The University's strong compliance" mitigated against the death penalty.

Phillips said, "There is a pattern of abuse by boosters that has to be dealt with. But they dealt with it in such a way they balanced with what The University has done (in compliance) since 1995."

While University officials were not available to the media, there were written statements from Interim President Dr. J. Barry Mason, Athletics Director Mal Moore, and Head Football Coach Dennis Franchione (who, incidentally, was in an offensive staff meeting and did not bother listening to the announcement of the ruling, which had been received by The University Monday afternoon).

Phillips admitted there was a mistake in the report, but said it had nothing to do with the findings.

Phillips said the Infractions Committee "was very clear that had they not had this institutional cooperation, that more than likely the death penalty would have been imposed."

Phillips also compared the Alabama case to the SMU case.

As to Alabama's contention that the NCAA staff did not alert Alabama to possible problems in a recruiting situation in 1996, Phillips said, "The Enforcement Staff failing to provide that information to The University was very regrettable. In the future that needs to be a mitigating factor." He added, "It's speculative" as to what might have happened if the Enforcement Staff had made that information available.

Why it was different at Minnesota. Phillips said, "We haven't heard that case yet."

As to whether this is the end of the case, Phillips said, "This is the end of it."

Regarding the statute of limitations, Phillips said, "We reviewed the legislative history of the drafting of the statute of limitations and how the one year constraint would apply to Alabama's argument and found the Enforcement Staff and Infractions Committee to be correct."

Here are statements from members of The University staff:

Statement from Interim President J. Barry Mason: "

Obviously, we disagree and are disappointed with the findings of the Infractions Appeals Committee. Our arguments for appeal of the severity of the sanctions were grounded in fact and well presented both in writing and in our meeting with the Appeals Committee last month. Despite the hard work of our compliance staff, attorneys, and many others who worked with great resolve, we did not receive the outcome we sought.

"Moving forward with a positive outlook and competitive spirit may be a difficult task, but I have great faith in our coaches, our athletics department leadership, our student athletes, and in the entire University of Alabama family. Our student athletes have demonstrated their resiliency by working hard on the field and in the classroom, taking charge of those things within their control, and standing tall against the challenge of hardships that were not of their making. In difficult times, I am reminded that universities are truly remarkable institutions of the people and seem to inevitably weather whatever crisis comes along and to emerge stronger than ever. Certainly that is the case at The University of Alabama. Despite this setback, we remain well positioned for the future."

Statement from Athletics Director Mal Moore:

"We received notification from the NCAA Infractions Appeals Committee on Monday afternoon. Our appeal was made on what we considered a very strong case and we are disappointed with the result.

"I believe in Coach Fran and his staff and am confident he is the man who can lead this football program back through these trying times.

"Through this adversity, we will move forward and become stronger than ever. As Athletics Director, it is my duty to see that we do not ever again find ourselves in this situation and I will work diligently to that end.

"I deeply appreciate the Crimson Tide players who have represented this University under some very trying circumstances. I also appreciate our loyal alumni, supporters and fans who have stuck by us during these very difficult times. I thank them for their continued support."

Statement from Football Coach Dennis Franchione:

"Nothing has really changed from my standpoint. We have worked our plan based on last February's ruling and we will stay the course.

"From this point on, we're on the downhill side of this issue and we can see the light at the end of the tunnel. We will maintain our focus over that which we have control and work hard to put this situation behind us."

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