Alarm Bells Should Have Sounded

Columnist Phillip Marshall takes a hard look at the nasty UT And Tee situation.

The last few days have not been good ones for the University of Tennessee football program. Neither have they been good for my profession.

The story broke Monday that Diane Samford, a Tennessee fan in Montgomery, apparently funneled $4,500 to former Tennessee quarterback Tee Martin through Wayne Rowe, a sports writer at The Mobile Register. That came on the heels of Tennessee self-imposing a loss of two scholarships for violations involving former Alabama and Tennessee player Eric Locke.

The NCAA has yet to sign off on Tennessee's self-imposed penalties in the Locke matter. And now this. No matter how much Tennessee athletic director Doug Dickey talks about Tennessee "standing on our reputation," no matter how hard the spin machine spins, this is trouble for the Vols. A full-scale investigation is all but certain now. And who knows where that could lead?

Rowe admitted sending the money to Martin after receiving checks for $2,000 and $2,500 from Samford. He said Samford asked him to send the money because Martin was having car trouble.

First, for a sports journalist to involve himself in sending money to an athlete is appalling at best, a blatant violation of ethical standards at worst. But even if it wasn't an athlete, if someone asks you to take a check, cash it and send money to somebody, alarm bells should go off loudly. Wouldn't any rational person's first question be "Why don't you send it yourself?"

Martin, now a reserve quarterback for the Pittsburgh Steelers, told the Register he didn't receive improper benefits and never asked Samford for money.

In Knoxville, News-Sentinel sportswriter Mike Griffith is working hard to put an orange spin on the story. So much for being an unbiased observer, as we were all taught to be from our early days in this business. Incredibly, Griffith allowed Steelers' spokesman Ron Wahl, who offered no proof of anything, to essentially accuse Rowe of stealing.

"I think he was requesting money for Tee that Tee never received," Griffith quoted Wahl as saying. Yet, two paragraphs later, Griffith quoted Wahl as saying, "This $4,500 is old news. They were aware money was given to Tee, but it was all legitimate."

You figure that one out. And if you can figure it out, then ask yourself why someone would seek a go-between to send "legitimate" money. Griffith, who wrote earlier that even if true it would be no more than a secondary violation, quoted Tennessee associate athletic director for compliance Malcolm McInnis on NCAA rules. "If in fact what has been alleged in the newspaper is correct, that would constitute an extra benefit for a student-athlete," McInnis said. But he went on to say, "As a general rule, almost every major case involves an element of lack of institutional control. Lack of institutional control would rest on the thoroughness of the investigation."

Really?

McInnis and Griffith need to read the infractions report on Alabama's case. There was no allegation of lack of institutional control. Compliance director Marie Robbins and faculty representative Gene Marsh were praised for the thoroughness of their investigation. And Alabama was hammered unmercifully, losing 21 scholarships and two years of bowl games. Besides, just how thorough was Tennessee's investigation?

Dickey said he and McInnis flew to Mobile in 1999 to investigate the finances and did not find a violation to self-report. At the very least, that is a shocking departure from normal procedure. What usually happens, what is supposed to happen, is that the school investigates the allegation, then sends its conclusions to the SEC and the NCAA. Dickey says he doesn't even remember if he put anything in writing about the case.

Griffith has already dismissed the Locke case. He writes, "The Vols recently lose two scholarships as a result of a secondary violation involving extra benefits provided for former UT receiver Eric Locke in the form of a job and inappropriate use of a vehicle."

He conveniently omits Fulmer's improper visit with Juicy Locke, Eric's father, before Eric had left Alabama. And he either ignores or doesn't know that any violation becomes secondary only when the NCAA says it is. Tennessee penalized itself two scholarships. The NCAA has yet to speak on the matter.

Martin is currently playing for the Rhein Fire in NFL Europe and will go to camp with the Steelers this summer. "It's not Tee's responsibility to give anyone this story," Griffith quoted Wahl as saying. "This is Tennessee's situation now. Tee is out of it." That's a rare bit of truth in this whole mess. There's nothing the NCAA can do to Martin, other than tarnish his legacy. It is definitely Tennessee's situation, and it is not a good one.

RIGHT PLAYER, WRONG NAME

In Monday's column, while writing about quarterbacks of note who were not starters as redshirt freshmen, I mentioned Peyton Manning. The quarterback I meant to refer to, of course, was Eli Manning, Peyton's little brother. Peyton moved into the starting lineup early in his freshman year at Tennessee. Sorry if I caused some confusion.


Inside The AU Tigers Top Stories