Bama penalties mostly fair, but this can’t keep happening
By Jess Nicholas
June 12, 2009
As Alabama figures out just how many victories will be “vacated” – which could include, I suppose, the Tide’s iconic 6-3 win over Tennessee in 2005 that cemented Roman Harper’s star value – most fans are looking at today’s round of penalties and probably thinking, “no big deal.”
And that would be a grave mistake.
Alabama got off about as light as is possible in these latest dealings with the NCAA. The school will pay a small fine, vacate basically the entire, meaningless 2006 season, much of the 2007 season and perhaps all of the 2005 season. Assuming the school wins nothing back on appeal, of course.
What Alabama won’t do is offer up any scholarships in recruiting, which pretty much paves the way for the Nick Saban-led juggernaut to continue rolling forward in 2009. Alabama is gunning for perhaps its third consecutive, fictitious “recruiting national championship” – but the eventual returns of those championships won’t be fictitious at all. They practically guarantee at least one shot at a real national title.
Unfortunately, Alabama is also now back in the dreaded “death penalty window,” and will be so for the next five years. For the next three years, Alabama will also be on probation – and woe to the school should any other credible violations pop forth during that time.
It’s time to say enough’s enough, and not direct that comment to the NCAA, but to Alabama’s administration. Enough is indeed enough. Alabama’s most recent case involved a staggering number of students who received some kind of textbook-related benefit they weren’t supposed to receive. Whether you think a textbook-related violation is serious or silly, what remains relevant here is that Alabama admitted it happened, which means the school admitted guilt, which means the likelihood Alabama receives significant relief on appeal looks pretty slim.
No, the people with the problem here don’t work for the NCAA; they work for Alabama. They are the ones in charge of overseeing programs like this, or overseeing the overseers, to halfway borrow from a now-famous Don Shula line.
When the number of athletes across multiple sports who were involved in this morass break the triple-digit mark, it’s time to start asking at what point jobs become endangered. There are plenty of possibilities from which to choose. The university should start in its academic affairs office and continue the probe in the compliance office (the empty words of praise from the NCAA directed towards the compliance staff notwithstanding).
It now also suggests that Alabama’s very athletic administration needs to feel real pressure to adapt or leave. While probably all schools have these kinds of issues, the fact is that most schools keep them quiet or stop them before they spin out of control. While Alabama can blame jealous Auburn fans for cooking up unfounded rumors about shady recruiting, Textbookgate happened in Tuscaloosa, under Alabama noses and was reported by Alabama people. The school has no one to blame but itself.
At some point, Alabama’s luck will run out. And if it runs out with Nick Saban in town and a real championship contender ready to take the field, the blowback from fans will be immense and almost violent – at that would be a justified response.
University President Robert Witt has done a good job turning Alabama around academically and in making a plethora of improvements in athletics. It appears he may have some unfinished business to quickly bring to a close, before the school does indeed end up staring down the barrel of a gun.