By Cecil Hurt
Tidesports.com presented by the Tuscaloosa News
CHICAGO | Robert "Bobo" Cunningham, who served as lead counsel for the University of Alabama at its hearing before the NCAA Infractions Appeals Committee today, said afterward that UA still faces "an uphill climb’’ in its bid to have sanctions against the Crimson Tide football program reduced.
But in an interview after the 31/2-hour hearing, Cunningham also said he felt the hearing went well.
"The (Appeals) Committee asked some very insightful and difficult questions to both sides," Cunningham said. "They obviously fully understood the issues in front of them.
"I did say at the time we started (the appeal) that it presented a very difficult challenge, and I still have that opinion. I would caution everyone that the large majority of appeals do not result in any relief. But our goal remains to have the penalties reduced to the self-imposed level."
Alabama self-imposed a number of penalties for acknowledged major violations in its football program, including three years of scholarship cuts and lengthy disassociations of three involved boosters. But the NCAA Infractions Committee imposed heavy additional sanctions, including extra scholarship cuts and recruiting restrictions, along with a two-year ban on post-season play.
Thomas Yeager, who chaired the Committee on Infractions and helped author the Feb. 1 opinion, attended Friday's hearing, in a departure from normal NCAA procedures.
Cunningham would not comment on what role, if any, Yeager played in Friday's hearing.
"I really cannot comment on the details of what occurred in that room," Cunningham said.
Yeager had no comment following the hearing, in keeping with standard NCAA procedure. There was also no comment from University of Wyoming law school dean Jerry Parkinson, who served as the Infractions Committee representative.
Cunningham also did not comment on specific issues raised by UA, but he said that "the nature of this hearing is not an evidentiary hearing.’’
"What we did, primarily, was address legal issues. This was not a retrial of the case."
The Tuscaloosa News, in its Friday edition, citing unnamed sources, said that the UA strategy focused largely on two areas: the inappropriate nature of the penalties imposed against UA and the COI's incorrect application of
statutes regarding information from so-called "confidential sources."
Cunningham did not confirm that those were the primary bases of appeal, saying only that "we discussed a lot of issues."
He also described the basic procedures governing the hearing.
"Here is how it went," Cunningham said. "Each side received an equal amount of time to make its oral arguments. This was not a Q-and-A session."
The length of the hearing, which started at 8 a.m. and wrapped up at 11:30 a.m., was "neither a positive or a negative," Cunningham said. He added that one reason for the relatively brief hearing was that the Appeals Committee "already had a good grasp of the issues."
While the Appeals Committee did not set a timetable for issuing its findings, attorney Stan Murphy of the UA office of counsel indicated that a "reasonable estimate" might be six to eight weeks.
In addition to Cunningham, UA was represented by Murphy; UA system counsel Glenn Powell; lawyer Rich Hilliard of Indianapolis; lawyer Charles Cooper of Washington, D.C.; athletics director Mal Moore; interim president Barry Mason; and former president Andrew Sorensen, now the president of the University of South Carolina. Both Mason and Sorensen read brief statements to the committee.
Sorensen said that he "was happy to attend the hearing, because I still have strong feelings for the University of Alabama."
Moore said that he was "very proud of the representation that took place, and very glad that this is coming to an end."
"It's been tough," Moore said. "There has been a lot of thought, time, worry and concern given to this issue. I'm very proud that this is coming to an end."
Cunningham said that, while NCAA procedures were different than those of a normal court of law, the hearing was "not that unusual."
"This was more akin to an appellate court," he said, "but it all boils down to the advocacy of the client's position."