A fascinating case unfolds

Montgomery attorney Tommy Gallion may not win his $60 million lawsuit against the NCAA on behalf of Ronnie Cottrell and Ivy Williams, yet he is succeeding in exposing the NCAA infractions process like it has never been exposed before. Greg Wallace of the <i>Birmingham Post-Herald</i> writes this commentary (originally published on BamaMag.com) on the latest developments.

As the defendants change and more supporters (surprising ones, too) are added, it has become clear: Tommy Gallion is on to something. With each released set of legal documents, the crusading attorney behind the Ronnie Cottrell/Ivy Williams case against the NCAA and various sundry parties gains a little more of my respect.

Whether or not he accomplishes his ultimate mission–- winning the $60 million lawsuit for his clients–- he has already reached one crucial goal: getting his clients' story told and exposing the NCAA infractions process like it has never been exposed before.

Again and again and again.

His release of former University of Alabama compliance officers Gene Marsh and Marie Robbins (and their subsequent agreement to testify on his clients' behalf) was yet another victory for Gallion in the court of public opinion.

"To me, it's a big, big plus," Gallion said. "If you'll recall, I've never said one thing about (winning the case). I don't know if we'll win or lose, but I'll do my best to make sure the truth is revealed. I hope I've done a pretty good job."

On that count, he has done an excellent job.

Although Gallion didn't uncover the now-infamous Phillip Fulmer NCAA transcript himself (it was released as part of Logan Young's federal case in Memphis), he brought it to a much wider audience by distributing it as part of an affidavit connected to the case.

That affidavit, in turn, established a link between Fulmer and freelance recruiting analyst Tom Culpepper thanks to Fulmer's testimony on an eight-hour meeting the two had where Culpepper told the Tennessee coach of various alleged violations Alabama had committed under Mike DuBose.

That might not land Fulmer in NCAA hot water, but it'll certainly make his next few trips to Birmingham and Tuscaloosa a little less pleasant.

More importantly, Gallion and his team of lawyers have shed some much-needed light on the cloak-and-dagger world of NCAA infractions cases. Typically, information coming out of infractions cases is very one-sided–the side the NCAA allows schools to tell and defend through their responses and the limited, blacked-out information they release.

Gallion has knocked down the curtain and exposed the wizard, if you will.

A reporter looking to learn more about the NCAA infractions process could do much worse than calling Gallion's Montgomery office, asking for his available files, and calling the Tuscaloosa News and seeking a copy of its groundbreaking transcript of Alabama's 2001 visit before the NCAA Infractions Committee.

Together, Gallion and the Tuscaloosa News have created a valuable resource for reporters and fans of the next school that faces NCAA wrath to understand the process.

Those files aren't complete yet, either. Wednesday Gallion accomplished an impressive feat–turning defendants in the case into his allies.

He helped broker a deal with the attorney for Marsh and Robbins which essentially turned them into witnesses for his case, complete with scathing depositions aimed at the NCAA.

Both former UA compliance employees underscored the point Gallion has tried making on his own–that the NCAA and SEC knew about potential recruiting violations concerning Albert Means, Harold James and Kenny Smith, but failed to notify Alabama.

"Based on (Fulmer's NCAA interview), it appears to me that the NCAA had knowledge about questions regarding Albert Means' recruitment and Harold James' recruitment while these two young student-athletes were still in high school, yet never shared that knowledge with The University of Alabama," Marsh stated in his deposition.

"Had the NCAA given this information to the University of Alabama, we could have taken appropriate action to prevent any improprieties on the part of the University of Alabama or its boosters and would have prevented their being admitted to school and competing on our football team."

NCAA documents released earlier this year showed that Culpepper gave information to Fulmer about Means and Smith.

Culpepper fared little better in the transcripts. Marsh and Robbins both felt they were misled by the NCAA about his role.

"Because Mr. Culpepper insisted on being a 'confidential source,'" Marsh said, "we were forbidden as an institution or as individuals from checking out the veracity of his statement or checking out his credibility in any way. (Doing so) would necessarily require revealing his identity, given the circumstances under which he gathered his information.

"We discussed this subject in that meeting and expressed our frustration to Mr. Culpepper and Mr. Johanningmeier over not being able to further investigate the story told by Mr. Culpepper. We encouraged Mr. Culpepper to go on the record but were not successful."

UA was later told, according to the deposition, that Culpepper would not be a major part of the NCAA's case. That changed in a pre-hearing conference before the NCAA Committee on Infractions where Marsh and Robbins both stated that Johanningmeier would not shake their hands.

"When the pre-hearing conference began, it became clear that they were angry because we were raising defenses to several allegations and they immediately began to question why we did not address the issue of Tom Culpepper in our official response," Marsh stated in the deposition.

"We replied by stating that Rich Johanningmeier had told me that Mr. Culpepper was not going to be used in the presentation of the Alabama case to the Committee on Infractions."

Culpepper, of course, was one of the NCAA's "confidential" witnesses against Alabama and played a major role in the case.

All of the above is fascinating stuff, and without Gallion and his suit it'd likely never have reached the light of day without plenty of digging.

It's becoming clear that Gallion is gathering a solid amount of evidence for his case, which is growing almost every day, if you ask him.

Whether it'll lead to a victory in court is another question entirely. The NCAA has a highly paid team of lawyers who are gathering their own evidence in a far more subtle matter, and they'll go down swinging, for certain.

It will be extremely interesting to see how the sides' cases stack up if this case ever reaches trial.

Regardless of the outcome, however, it should be a fascinating ride–- as long as Tommy Gallion is involved.

Editor's Note: Greg Wallace is the beat writer covering Alabama athletics for the Birmingham Post-Herald and writes a weekly column for BamaMag.com.

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