We've all been forced to endure the tomes, both written and spoken, over the past few months about the state of Southeastern Conference football in the face of numerous league programs under investigation or serving penalties for everything from buying players like chattel to making funny faces.
Lee Corso is among the latest who've felt the spirit move them to blast the SEC. Appearing in Atlanta in early August, ESPN's coach-turned-analyst popped off with a stream of vitriol toward the "bunch of cheaters" in the SEC -- a reference to a string of investigations garnered by Alabama, Tennessee, Kentucky and LSU.
One CBS SportsLine scribe went as far as comparing the SEC to that off-track-betting parlor that masqueraded as the now-defunct Southwestern Conference.
Aside from the occasional verbal bowel movement of Corso (who, after compiling an amazing record of 73-83-6 as head coach of such powerhouses as Louisville, Indiana and Northern Illinois, deserves an Oscar for convincing anyone to take his "analysis" seriously), much of the hyperbolic smack can be written off as mere jealousy of college athletics' most successful conference.
While some of the criticism is justifiable and admittedly deserved, most of the commentators, self-proclaimed analysts and other opportunists who enjoy pointing fingers at SEC teams seem to have conveniently forgotten the likes of Southern Methodist, Texas A&M, Oklahoma and Florida State (Corso's alma mater). The Seminoles have refined the art of skirting honesty and recruiting thugs to such a degree I'm starting to believe the university has a consulting contract with Edwin Edwards.
That having been said, however, I have about as much sympathy for Alabama right now as I did for Mike Tyson when he bit Evander Holyfield's ears.
I'm really getting sick of the all the whiny pleas for sympathy for the Crimson Tide as the program embarks on an NCAA-imposed two-year recess from post-season play and five years of probation. The penultimate was a recent piece penned for ESPN's Web site (that paragon of apologist sports journalism) that makes a half-hearted attempt to actually make us feel sorry for Alabama. The players, we're told, are trying hard to ignore the jokes and taunts as they prepare for the season.
Let me state this as clearly as I can. Alabama fans and players: If you feel bad about the NCAA sanctions, guess what? You should. Your program cheated and the program should be punished. The penalties hurt, and they're meant to. The pain is supposed to be a deterrent to future violations from your school and hopefully others. I just wish the powers that be in Tennessee -- truly the SEC's dirtiest program -- would pay attention.
Before all you Tide fans start clogging my computer with tear-stained e-mails begging me to take it all back, be aware that I harbor no ill will toward your school. Alabama is truly one of the great programs in the history of college football and forever has my respect.
And, yes, I'm quite aware aforementioned LSU faces its own potential NCAA investigation. If Nick Saban & Co. are found guilty of wrongdoing, they deserve everything coming, including my own scolding.
But Tide fans should ask themselves a simple question. If your program is so honored, so respected, so steeped in tradition, so proud, how in hell could you allow such shameful acts to take place?
It was a booster -- a fancy name for a fan with money -- who allegedly arranged to pay somewhere between $115,000 and $200,000 to buy Albert Means, a young man who forever will be haunted by that humiliation. And it was partially due to the pressure exerted by fans that a boor like Mike Dubose was allowed to remain as head coach despite the fact he admitted publicly to an extramarital affair with a secretary and lying to hide it.
I wonder how many of those same God-fearing Bama fans extolling family values excoriated Bill Clinton for his conduct with Monica Lewinsky.
In its flaccid afterthought of an appeal, the university argues that, "Nowhere do the NCAA regulations provide that sanctions for the secret infractions of rogue boosters can be visited on a blameless, indeed exemplary, institution that has done everything reasonably possible, by the NCAA's own admission, to monitor and otherwise prevent such misconduct."
Let's ignore for a moment the hypocrisy of Alabama calling itself an "exemplary" institution. You may recall the NCAA infraction committee's report includes lurid accounts of Tide boosters paying off recruits with money stuffed in plastic grocery bags as early as 1995. That timing would put the payoffs occurring while the university was in the midst of fending off sanctions handed down in a prior NCAA investigation.
But if the school is invoking succor from rogue boosters as its defense, then it's truly laughable. "You can't punish us because you can't prove we knew we were cheating."
For that logic to stand a chance, you've got to convince me that no one else in the entire program, fan base or booster club knew what was going on in the Means case. You've got to somehow make me believe that such a monumental act of chicanery popped up overnight from one person's hubris. I'm going out on a limb here, but I'd be willing to wager there was at least one other person with who knew about this particular booster, yet said nothing.
Then there's the insane logic of claiming innocence after the athletic department recommended self-imposed penalties. I mean, if you didn't do anything wrong, why not prove your case and fight sanctions of any kind?
God knows the NCAA is not perfect. Some of its decisions have been so disastrously dumb that I'm convinced the organization is run by a bunch of intelligence-challenged numb skulls. But in this case, if the NCAA is guilty of anything, it's not going hard enough on Alabama, which could have been handed the dreaded death penalty.
For the unimaginable crime of buying a human being, the Tide's wrist slap consisted of giving up a few lousy scholarships and a couple bowl games, as well as five years of probation. And the school is whining that's too harsh.
But the audacity in Tuscaloosa doesn't end there.
Current head coach Dennis Franchione decided to lift the team by unabashedly flaunting the spirit of the sanctions. When Washington State dropped out of its Nov. 30 meeting with the Hawaii, Franchione graciously stepped in to fill the void. So instead of the season's traditional end with Auburn in the Iron Bowl, Franchione arranged a televised 13th game (wink, wink) in sunny Honolulu.
In other words, the coach thumbed his nose at the NCAA and gave the team a bowl game. Alabama travel agents are even hawking bowl-type packages and special rates so Tide fans can attend the game (wink, wink).
If that's how the school and its supporters choose to honor tradition and Bear Bryant's legacy, then no, I don't have a shred of sympathy for Alabama, its fans or its players. In the NCAA rulebook's entry on "lack of institutional control" there should be a picture of an elephant wearing a maroon sweater.
The last word hurts...
I find it interesting that despite all the whining about my last column, no one really disagreed with the central point concerning the minority of LSU fans who embarrass the rest of us with obnoxious behavior. While everyone was taking me to task for daring to speak the truth about this small group of soccer-hooligan rejects, no one denied such behavior takes place.
One message-board poster suggested I should have had the testicular fortitude to differentiate between my hatred for obnoxious fans and their actions. Gee, I thought that when I repeatedly called them idiots, my hatred was pretty clear. Another poster suggested I should zip it, because LSU recruits regularly visit TigerRag.com.
And here I was thinking it might be heartening for a recruit to read there are actually some fans who don't tolerate foul-mouthed, drunken jerks, many of whom have never stepped foot in an LSU classroom.
I, along with many other LSU supporters, have no problem with passion, as yet another poster labeled the behavior of "those fans" in a vain attempt to justify the stupidity. But most sane people realize the difference between passion and throwing drinks, using the n-word and trashing the LSU campus.
Chet Rollis is a Baton Rouge writer who ponders SEC football and is a three-time runner up for the Mr. Congeniality award.
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