NCAA decisions clouds Tuesday press conference

Alabama's preparation for this week's game against Southern Miss was overshadowed by one of the biggest losses in Crimson Tide football history. Bama has a great on-the-field record, but once again came up a big loser before the NCAA.

Tuesday the NCAA Infractions Appeals Committee announced that it had upheld all findings and penalties involving the football program at Alabama. The University suffered severe penalties in February. While Alabama had self-imposed the loss of 15 scholarships, the Infractions Committee added the loss of six scholarships over the next two years (Alabama will now be able to sign only 18 players again this February and only 19 the following February) and also added the loss of post-season eligibility for this season and next, reduced overall football scholarship limits from 85 to 80, and put The University on probation for five years.

Alabama had appealed on the basis that the findings were clearly contrary to the evidence and that a procedural error affected the reliability of the information on which the findings were based. The University also argued that the penalties were excessive and inappropriate.

In a rambling, stammering press teleconference Tuesday,Terry Don Phillips, the athletics director at Clemson and acting chair of the Infractions Appeals Committee, attempted to justify the decision of the Appeals Committee. His task was difficult in that he had to admit there was an incorrect citation of a case against UNLV (but it didn't matter, he said); note that the failure of the NCAA Enforcement Staff to inform Alabama of a situation was "regrettable" (but really didn't matter); contend that Alabama had the opportunity to question the so-called secret witness (but alleged it wasn't really important to the case); and said that a Minnesota case in which an Enforcement Staff lapse was regarded as a mitigating circumstance was not cited in the Alabama case (even though that case was cited for about a third of a page right over the signature of Phillips and his fellow committee members). In other words, it was another day of typical NCAA injustice and incompetence.

While most in the Alabama camp were stunned by the decision, Crimson Tide Head Football Coach Dennis Franchione issued a statement in which he said, "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."

At his regular Tuesday press briefing a couple of hours after the NCAA teleconference, Franchione­true to his word­moved ahead. Franchione discussed this week's game against Southern Miss. Bama will host the Golden Eagles in Bryant-Denny Stadium at 6 p.m. CDT Saturday, a game that will be telecast by ESPN2. (Incidentally, it now appears it will be next Monday before it will be announced whether the October 28 game at Arkansas will be a 2:30 p.m. CDT game on CBS or a 6:45 p.m. CDT game on ESPN.)

Franchione complimented Southern Miss for having a very good football team. "They are 3--0," Franchione said. "They have a lot of confidence. They are playing well on both sides of the ball and in the kicking game. They are a very complete ball club and very talented."

He said "The thing that sticks out on offense is their running back, (Derrick) Nix. He didn't play against us last year. He makes a lot of his big runs in the fourth quarter, and he's a powerful back, a big, strong guy. His back-up is good, too. Their offensive line is experienced. They have four starters back and are athletic. Their quarterback is new, but he is playing very solid football. The running game has taken a lot off him."

Franchione added, "Southern Mississippi is always aggressive on defense."

The Tide coach said Alabama players will have no problem staying focused on Southern Miss because of the respect the Tide has for the Golden Eagles.

One feature of the Southern Miss defense is its movement before the snap of the ball. Franchione said, "It's a demanding week" for Alabama quarterbacks to prepare for the multiplicity of the Golden Eagles' defense. But, Franchione said, he thinks Alabama's multiple features on offense make it difficult for Southern Miss, too. He noted that Southern Miss is typically a "big play" team on defense and that Alabama was able to keep them out of those big plays when the Tide closed out regular season play last year with a 28-15 win in the rain at Legion Field in Birmingham.

Franchione noted that Alabama has had good offensive balance this season. That's an understatement. Bama has 626 rushing yards (ranking third in the SEC at 208.7 yards per game) and an identical 626 passing yards (ranking fifth in the SEC).

But, he said, he does not think Alabama has played a complete game yet. "There have been a lot of bright spots," Franchione said. "We'll never play a perfect game, but I believe we can play better than we have, that we will play better than we have, and that we need to play better than we have."

The Southern Miss game will mark Alabama's fourth consecutive non-conference game to open the season. Bama, 2-1, will play eight consecutive Southeastern Conference games beginning with the Arkansas contest, then close out the season at Hawaii in the 13th game of the year, another non-conference contest. Franchione noted that college teams don't play exhibition games, and so it is good to have non-conference games in the early part of the schedule.

Franchione thinks the primary reason for Southern Miss being a good football program is the long-time presence of Golden Eagles Head Coach Jeff Bower. Bower, a former Southern Miss quarterback, is in his 12th season as head coach at his alma mater.

Franchione agreed the Golden Eagles get extra motivation when playing Bama because so many of the Southern Miss players are from the state of Alabama and were not offered scholarships by the Crimson Tide.

Most of the questions for Franchione Tuesday concerned the offense.

As for back-up quarterback Brodie Croyle, Franchione said, "We're gaining more confidence in him and seeing all the things he is capable of. We'll continue to evaluate him and put him into situations where he can be at his best." The Tide coach said Croyle, a redshirt freshman, has reached the point where he needs playing time to continue to improve.

Alabama's receiving corps was a question mark prior to the season. With the decision to redshirt the most experienced returning receiver, Antonio Carter, the situation could have been dire. But, Franchione said, "Our receivers have been pretty solid. They have given us good consistency. I was a little disappointed in their blocking last week, but not in their pass-catching."

He said the performance of the wide receivers has meant defenses cannot concentrate just on the running game. As a result, he said, "We're not locked into any one guy and if you are defending us you can't focus on any one guy."

He said Alabama's offensive line "played very well last week. They have given us three solid performances, even against a very good Oklahoma defensive front. They are playing with more and more confidence. When those five guys up front play well, it makes it easier to spread it around among the skill players."

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