Feuding Among Members Hurting SEC

The warfare between Alabama and Tennessee continues to grow and is only hurting the conference says Phillip Marshall in his latest installment.

Auburn, Ala.--It all sounds so familiar.

NCAA infractions cases always seem to start out the same way. First, there are reports of alleged wrongdoing. Those reports are followed by angry denials from school officials who claim they are so very committed to playing by the rules.

Then comes the investigation. A year or so later, when the bad news comes, everyone is shocked and appalled. And life goes on.

Tennessee is doing most of the squirming these days. The story goes on from Mobile, where the wait continues for word from Western Union on whether it has proof that former sports writer Wayne Rowe actually did wire money he received from Tennessee fan Dianne Sanford to former Tennessee quarterback Tee Martin.

The first order of business, as usual, was for Tennessee to put out the word that Mrs. Sanford wasn't a season ticket holder or a graduate or a donor, meaning she was not a booster. That's a pipe dream. Believe me, if it is proved Mrs. Sanford sent the money to Martin through Rowe, the NCAA will see her as very much of a booster. If it doesn't, every school in the country can find a rich fan who isn't a donor or a season-ticket holder and ask him or her to start sending money to players.

There is orange-tinted smoke other places, too.

It will be shocking if the NCAA doesn't launch an investigation of the Tennessee program. The growing belief is that, if it does, there won't be a shortage of fertile ground to plow.

Meanwhile, LSU and Arkansas are dealing with their own compliance matters. Alabama and Kentucky have already been leveled by the NCAA. There is growing concern that the Southeastern Conference is in danger of destroying itself from within. The SEC isn't going anywhere, but some relationships between schools are reaching what can only be called crisis proportions..

The animosity between Alabama and Tennessee might be unprecedented in the SEC. It goes far beyond a famed old rivalry. This has nothing to do with who scored touchdowns or who beat whom. This is a blood feud that doesn't seem likely to fade anytime soon.

There is little question that Tennessee football coach Phillip Fulmer had wanted for a long time to bring Alabama down. How much he actually had to do with what happened is open to debate, but realistically, it probably wasn't a lot. Whether he knew Alabama was breaking rules or if he just didn't like the Crimson Tide's recruiting success in Tennessee depends on which side you listen to.

Now that Tennessee is taking its turn in the hottest of seats, there is almost as much joy at Alabama as there would be if the NCAA just said it was all a big mistake and that Alabama really was the squeaky clean program it always claimed to be.

It's sad that retiring SEC commissioner Roy Kramer will leave with his league in such turmoil. He made the SEC the wealthiest college conference in history, but he wasn't able to protect it from its own members.

Will the SEC go the way of the old Southwest Conference? It's a safe bet that won't happen.

At least SEC schools try to be a little discreet when they break the rules. The likes of SMU didn't even do that. But the truth is that the SWC didn't break up because of cheating. It broke up because the four schools that were invited to move could make a whole lot more money as part of the Big 12. I don't believe any SEC schools will find it more lucrative to move to another conference.

SEC officials would have us believe that things are really no different than they've always been, that it's a matter of schools doing better jobs of policing themselves and of more readily available information.

I really don't know if that's true or if it's not. What I do know is that the near-open warfare between Alabama and Tennessee is very bad for the SEC. Love them or not, Alabama's and Tennessee's football programs are the most historic in the SEC. Their annual rivalry was of national importance long before Alabama and Auburn resumed their series in 1948.

Someone must find a way for cooler heads to prevail. Someone must find a way to calm the angry SEC waters. If someone doesn't, things are going to get worse before they get better.

Kramer took a good first step last month when he summoned football recruiting coordinators to Birmingham to what can only be described as a peace conference. They all talked nicely and patted each other on the back and said how they would call each other first if there were problems.

Maybe it will happen just that way. And maybe it will snow tomorrow.

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