AU's Rival Has More Problems Than Current Scandal

Columnist Phillip Marshall writes opinion pieces on Auburn and Southeastern Conference athletics.

The saga that has engulfed Alabama football for the past week is finally nearing an end. University president Robert Witt is scheduled to meet with the Board of Trustees Saturday to unveil his decision. Will Price stay or go? If anyone knows, they aren't saying. Some signs seem to point to his staying. Others seem to point to his going. Either way, it's one of the more bizarre tales in our state's football history.

If you listen to folks in the Pacific Northwest, where Price spent 14 seasons as Washington State's head coach, he is a man of character and integrity who never showed any signs of the type behavior that has been alleged at Alabama. But back at home, students tell stories about Price being out late at Tuscaloosa bars, buying drinks for college students. And that's before we even get around to the Pensacola mess.

There seems to be no doubt Price, in town for the Emerald Coast Classic Pro-Am, spent a lot of time and a lot of dollars at Artey's Angels, a Pensacola nightclub that features topless dancers. He was particularly interested in a stripper named "Destiny." I don't guess anybody will be calling Alabama a team of destiny next season. There also seems no doubt that a woman in Price's hotel room ordered $1,000 worth of room service…to go. Maybe the tendency to behave like this just suddenly came on Price after he arrived in Tuscaloosa. Maybe, at 57, he suddenly started to make bad decisions. Maybe his side of the story will put it all in a different light.

Maybe, but I wouldn't hold my breath.

The fact is Price has embarrassed an Alabama football program that is reeling from a string of embarrassments in recent years. He has embarrassed himself. He has hurt his family. Does that mean he should be fired? That's for others to say. But it would surely seem irresponsible to consider going forward with a guaranteed seven-year, $10.5 million contract. Alabama players have rallied to his defense. That's really not surprising. Those players have been to hell and back in recent years.

They lost one coach, bonded with another, were hit with NCAA sanctions, lost another coach and now face the possibility of losing yet another one. But the truth is the players' voice counts the least in such situations. College players are temporary. Witt and other decision-makers at Alabama must look at the longer term.

Alabama's football program has more problems than Price's behavior. There are still those pesky NCAA sanctions. There'll be no postseason play this season, and scholarship reductions will start to take a serious toll next season. A Memphis grand jury continues its investigation that could lead to more trouble for Alabama.

Meanwhile, back at Auburn, all is calm. Tommy Tuberville's biggest concern is keeping expectations from getting out of hand. He knows he has a good football team, maybe a great one. He also knows LSU, Tennessee, Georgia, USC and maybe others on his schedule also have good football teams, maybe great ones.

In the often vicious world of college football, what's bad for your rival is usually good for you. There can be little question that Tuberville has been handed an historic opportunity to give Auburn the upper hand in the state. From the time Antonio Langham signed with an agent on Jan. 2, 1993, turmoil has seemed to follow the Crimson Tide. Since that day, Alabama has had four different head football coaches and four different athletic directors. And the hits just keep on coming.

While the focus at Alabama is on an exotic dancer named Destiny and whether a coach who has never coached an SEC game will keep his job, the focus at Auburn is on just how high the Tigers will be ranked in preseason polls. The spotlight will shine brightly on Tuscaloosa on Saturday morning. In what will surely be a media feeding frenzy, Price's fate will be made public. In Auburn, Tuberville will spend a quiet day with his family.

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