NCAA Infractions Case Is Back

Why would The University of Alabama issue a statement that raises more questions than it answers? And why would The University wait months to address a situation that it knew would be public? That's what happened Thursday afternoon as a release from The University reported a recent meeting of Alabama officials with the NCAA Committee on Infractions.

Alabama has done itself no favors in the eyes of the public with this stonewall tactic. The original allegation dates to November, 2007, when just before kickoff of the Alabama-Tennessee game it was revealed that Alabama football players Antoine Caldwell, Glen Coffee, Marlon Davis, Marquis Johnson and Chris Rogers had been suspended. There was little detail about the situation resulting in the suspensions other than "impropriety" regarding textbooks. Later information revealed that athletes had obtained textbooks and other materials. Alabama said none of the athletes benefited monetarily.

The players were suspended for four games, then reinstated by the NCAA.

Word of the meeting was whispered in the week prior to football Signing Day, which was Wednesday, February 3. The NCAA had a history of a news release that severely damaged Alabama football recruiting, but on this occasion the meeting took place in San Diego, California, on February 20. The University's statement said "The University of Alabama appeared before the NCAA's Committee on Infractions."

Our information is that the Alabama delegation included President Dr. Robert E. Witt, Athletics Director Mal Moore, Compliance Director Mike Ward, and Associate Athletics Director Chris King, who formerly was compliance director. Also appearing on behalf of The University was Southeastern Conference Commissioner Mike Slive.

Nevertheless, nothing was announced until Thursday.

On Thursday the Tuscaloosa News and perhaps some other news organizations broke a story regarding the case, and only then did The University respond with a statement sorely lacking in information. Moreover, the release came with the pronouncement that no Alabama officials would have any other comment on the situation.

Only then was it learned that the NCAA had sent notice to The University in May, 2008, alleging that student-athletes had been obtaining impermissible textbooks as far back as the 2005-06 academic year, continuing through the fall of 2007. Alabama was accused of "a failure to monitor the student-athlete textbook distribution system."

Materials released by The University said the NCAA found "potential for major violations." Alabama's response said The University "subtantially admits that the infractions occurred and that it failed to adequately monitor its student-athlete textbook distribution system."

The response included all penalties imposed on athletes and others. The response also noted, "This is not a case of intentional misconduct by coaches, institutional employees or boosters. No other types of NCAA rules violations were discovered. No one made a financial profit from the textbook violations...[and] no one obtained materials other than materials of an academic nature."

That leads to speculation not addressed in The University's Thursday release. In fact, the release is likely to fuel speculation, and the most common speculation (right or wrong) is that Alabama could face additional penalties. There have been only sketchy details and rumors of the actual wrong-doing in 2007, but there were reports that sports other than football had athletes involved.

All University statements prior to and including Thursday focused on Alabama's proactive performance. Thursday's statement said, "The University discovered the violations, investigated them promptly and in detail, and immediately took corrective action to fix its textbook distribution system. After self-reporting the violations, UA has appropriately kept the NCAA and SEC apprised of its internal investigation, findings and corrective actions."

One couldn't help but think back to early in the decade when Infractions Committee Chairman Tom Yeager said The University of Alabama "did all they could do," before hammering the Crimson Tide football program with unprecedented penalties. It does no good to allow that Yeager proved to be less than an intellectual giant. He is the type people the NCAA has traditionally had on its committees and the type Alabama must be prepared to have deciding its fate.

There was also no comfort to read that Alabama retained the law firm of Bond, Schoeneck and King to assist in the presentation of The University. That seemed unproductive in previous dealings with the NCAA.

Dr. Witt issued a separate statement saying, "Compliance with NCAA and SEC rules is of the utmost importance to The University of Alabama and our Athletics Department, and I am pleased with the way our compliance officers handled this situation. UA works diligently to ensure that integrity and a commitment to excellence are the hallmarks of our athletics program, and we appreciate the support we received from Commissioner Slive and the SEC, and officials at the NCAA."

Although it may have been intended to provide comfort, the final words of the Thursday announcement had a hollow ring. It said, "The University's appearance before the committee is part of the NCAA's normal investigative and review process."

Presumably, The University has had no response from its February 20 meeting. The same source that provided information about the situation in late January said NCAA precedent would mean no additional penalties, but a reinstatement of probation for perhaps two years. But Alabama's previous experience with the NCAA shows precedent is not necessarily germaine.

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