Marshall: Empty Words About Bama Football Trial

Columnist Phillip Marshall writes about the courtroom battles of two former University of Alabama football coaches.

The trial that many breathlessly awaited is almost over now. Former Alabama assistant Ronnie Cottrell might or might not get a judgment today in a Tuscaloosa courtroom against former recruiting analyst Tom Culpepper.

The grandiose picture lawyer Tommy Gallion painted of a trial that was going to bring everybody from the NCAA to Tennessee football coach Phillip Fulmer to their knees has been reduced to nothing more than a nasty dispute between two men.

Judge Steve Wilson threw out the rest of the case, some of it before the trial even started and more of it this week. I'll leave the legal analysis to others, but you have to give the judge credit for having some guts.

Former Alabama assistant Ivy Williams' claims against the NCAA and Culpepper went nowhere. He's been reduced to being a spectator. The NCAA lawyers packed up and left when Wilson threw out all claims against the organization.

Gallion and his helpers would have us all believe that, if nothing else, they have exposed the NCAA as a corrupt organization. Maybe they are trying to justify to themselves the time and money they have spent. I haven't read or heard anything in this case about the NCAA that surprised me. I know how their enforcement division operates. I know due process is not part of the process. I didn't need Gallion's screams to tell me that.

I know the NCAA enforcement division and the committee on infractions stretch facts to fit the conclusion they want to reach. Anybody who has covered or watched an NCAA infractions case closely knows that. My goodness, the committee on infractions decided last year that summer basketball official Mark Komara, who has long held Auburn in disdain, was an Auburn booster. Go figure.

But I've said it before and I'll say it again. The idea that there was a vast conspiracy to bring down Alabama football does not pass the common sense test and clearly didn't pass any kind of legal test.

Did former SEC commissioner Roy Kramer want to get Logan Young out of Alabama football? Yes. Is that a conspiracy? Nope. Maybe Fulmer conducted his own investigation and should have gone through other channels, but he clearly thought Alabama was recruiting improperly and tried to make it known. It turned out he was right. That doesn't make him guilty of some evil conspiracy.

The hard fact is that Alabama was found guilty of major violations for the third time in six years. That fact, more than any other, led to harsh penalties.

The saddest figure in this whole crazy story might be Culpepper. Like most of the recruiting analysts in this state, he was and says he remains a loyal Alabama fan. What he did or didn't do, said or didn't say, I have no way of knowing. Did he slander Cottrell? That's for others to decide.

Culpepper is a pariah among the supporters of the school he loves and is reportedly broke. If Cottrell wins his claim against Culpepper, he'll get some satisfaction. He won't get much else.

It would be nice--and the Alabama administration would be delighted--if the issue would go away after the trial is over. But it's not going to die just yet. Fulmer could face a real circus when he arrives in Birmingham next week for Media Days. The air will surely be filled with hostility when Tennessee visits Bryant-Denny Stadium.

In two years of trying his case in public, of making himself something of a celebrity to radio talk show listeners, Gallion vowed to hold a lot of people and institutions accountable for what he saw as mistreatment of his clients and his alma mater.

Maybe the jury will give him a victory over Culpepper. Maybe Gallion will celebrate. Maybe he feels compassion only for his clients and not for Culpepper and his family. I don't know, but in the end, Gallion's words turned out to be just that--words. And empty ones at that.


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