More Bad Days For Bama Football

Columnist Phillip Marshall takes a look a the messy situation that continues to plague Auburn's rival in Tuscaloosa.

These are trying times for the University of Alabama football program. It's bad enough that the Tide is on its third coach since the end of last season and fourth since the end of the 2000 season. It's bad enough that NCAA sanctions threaten to bring on several years of football famine. But the crisis of the moment is all about lawsuits.

Former coach Mike Price, fired after a wild and crazy night in Pensacola, wants $20 million of the department's money. Former assistants Ronnie Cottrell and Ivy Williams, who were swept out with Mike DuBose at the end of the 2000 season, aren't suing the university, but they are suing everybody else in sight. And everybody else in sight includes faculty representative Gene Marsh and former compliance director Marie Robbins, now the senior women's administrator.

I won't speculate on the merits of either lawsuit, but both are very bad for the University of Alabama. Price's claim is cut and dried. He says he was wrongfully fired. If it is determined he was and Alabama has to pony up a few million, it would be a financial disaster for a department already strapped for cash. The Cottrell/Williams saga is much better theater. Tommy Gallion, the lawyer who filed the suit, may or may not have a case. He has shown only that he can talk a good game. He has vowed retribution on the University of Tennessee, the SEC, SEC commissioner Roy Kramer, Robbins, Marsh and anybody who ever gave his clients a dirty look. He says the Albert Means fiasco was fabricated and that there was a vast conspiracy to bring down Alabama's football program.

Gallion produced a handful of affidavits earlier in the week, most of them from "recruiting analysts." They were apparently aimed at convincing us all that Tom Culpepper, supposedly a secret witness in the NCAA investigation, is not a very good guy. What that has to do with the supposed grand conspiracy against Alabama's football program, I'm not sure. What I am sure of is this: Nothing good for Alabama's football program can come out of it. When people start testifying under oath, damaging secrets can come out.

Gallion says his mission is to expose the NCAA and its enforcement practices. Others have tried and failed. He says he wants to help the Crimson Tide. He's not helping.

There is a dream among some Alabama supporters that somehow, out of this civil litigation, Alabama is going to yet have its penalties reduced. That's not going to happen. The initial trial, if there is one, will be the start of a long process. The NCAA has big-time lawyers. If Gallion should get a judgment in Tuscaloosa, the NCAA will appeal. It could go on for years.

Gallion seemingly enjoys the spotlight. He's done a lot of talking. We would all do well to remember we haven't heard a peep from the other side, not yet. We should also remember that there were no significant findings against Cotrell and no findings at all against Williams. We should also remember that Alabama admitted guilt to most charges. While all this is going on, the Memphis Grand Jury continues to meet. There could be indictments ahead for some of the main players in the lawsuit drama. And the NCAA continues to watch.

There is no doubt a lot of good people at Alabama were stunned and angered when the NCAA sanctions came down. They didn't expect to be hit nearly as hard as they were. They appealed and lost. Maybe they were hit too hard, but it's time to move on. Athletic director Mal Moore wants to do just that, but it's not happening.

Even though Alabama couldn't go to a bowl, life was pretty good as late as Nov. 16 of last year. The Tide routed LSU 31-0 in Baton Rouge that night to move to 9-2 on the season. Auburn would come to Bryant-Denny Stadium a significant underdog a week later. Auburn didn't play like an underdog, beating the Tide 17-7 in a game that wasn't as close as the score. Nothing has been the same since. Within a matter of weeks, head coach Dennis Franchione had bolted for Texas A&M. Moore hired Price, who was gone after four months. Mike Shula was hired to replace him.

And now the lawsuits have hit.

While all this swirls around, Shula must try to prepare himself to accomplish a near impossible feat and, with three weeks of practice, get his team ready to start the season. No, these are not good days for Alabama football. Not good at all.

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