Marshall: Cottrell Lawsuit Doesn't Make Sense

Columnist Phillip Marshall takes a look at the Ronnie Cottrell lawsuit against the NCAA and if it makes sense to pursue.

I will quickly admit here that I will never be viewed as any kind of expert on the case former Alabama assistant coaches Ronnie Cottrell and Ivy Williams and their publicity-seeking lawyer Tommy Gallion filed against the NCAA.

That disclaimer out of the way, there is a lot about this whole thing that has never made much sense to me.

Let's say, for instance, that I find out that Jason Caldwell has been robbing banks in his spare time. I call Mark Murphy and tell him what I've learned. We decide to go to the bank and wait outside one night to see if Jason shows up. He shows up, slips in the back door and makes his getaway with a few thousand bucks. Mark and I, having not been offered a cut of the proceeds, turn him in.

Did Mark and I conspire to catch Jason robbing banks? You could say we did. Was it wrong? Of course not. Are there other bank robbers around who haven't been caught? Of course.

The crux of the lawsuit, scheduled to be heard in July in Tuscaloosa, is that there was a conspiracy involving Tennessee coach Phillip Fulmer, Southeastern Conference commissioner Roy Kramer and others to bring down Alabama football. Since the school wanted no part of any such lawsuit, the stretch must be made that it was that conspiracy that led to the actions of Cottrell and Williams being questioned and made it impossible for them to find employment in college football. The real irony is that neither Cottrell nor Williams was sanctioned by the NCAA in the end.

There is no doubt that Fulmer was highly upset with Alabama and its recruiting practices in Memphis. The conviction of Alabama Logan Young and the fact that Alabama pled guilty to numerous recruiting violations would seem to indicate he had reason to be unhappy.

It should also be remembered that the Alabama athletic department has never wanted any part of this lawsuit and would probably celebrate if – as some legal experts predict – it is thrown out without ever going before a jury.

Believe me, I have no sympathy for the NCAA enforcement division. The way it does business is often beyond any sense of fair play. Former Auburn basketball assistant Shannon Weaver was treated, in my opinion, worse than Cottrell and Williams were treated.

But a conspiracy to bring down Alabama football? That doesn't pass the common sense test. I don't believe there is much question that Kramer wanted to get Logan Young out of the picture. It's obvious now that Young needed to be out of the picture. Why, though, would Kramer want Alabama football to be hit with harsh sanctions? That makes no sense.

On the other hand, Alabama, by its own admission, was guilty of NCAA violations. Fulmer didn't go through the usual channels in trying to prove those violations, but the fact remains that Alabama football was brought down by the actions of its own people, not by anything Fulmer did or said.

Many Alabama supporters are hanging on to hope that this lawsuit will somehow exonerate Alabama's football program. Gallion has fueled that hope. It isn't going to happen.

Listen to any radio talk show originating in Birmingham and you will hear over and over again that Alabama did nothing that others don't do. That is the defense of almost every school that finds itself at odds with the NCAA.

Call me naïve, but I don't believe every school does it. I know most schools don't have a booster shelling out the kind of money Young paid high school coach Lynn Lang to get defensive tackle Albert Means to sign with Alabama.

I would join any call for reform in the way the NCAA enforces its rules. If Gallion spent more time talking about the shameful way individuals are vilified during the process before there is any finding of guilt, I'd be in full agreement.

But listen to Gallion talk and you realize this isn't really about Cottrell and Williams. It's about the NCAA having the audacity to question Alabama football.

Maybe Cottrell deserves some relief because the NCAA erroneously published on its web site that there was a "show cause" order against him, meaning that any school that wanted to hire him would have to explain itself to the NCAA Committee on Infractions.

But a conspiracy? I don't see it.

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