Alabama officials get long-awaited hearing before NCAA appeals panel today with goal of reducing sanctions
By THOMAS MURPHY
In what is expected to be the last chapter of a saga that has stretched over two years, the University of Alabama will present its final arguments today before the NCAA's Infractions Appeals Committee.
Alabama's coterie of lawyers and school officials embarked Thursday for Chicago and today's 8 a.m. hearing at The Westin hotel.
Alabama is fighting to overturn or lessen a two-year bowl ban, the loss of six additional scholarships, the term of probation and other penalties imposed by the NCAA Committee on Infractions on Feb. 1.
The appeals committee can uphold the sanctions imposed by the infractions committee or it can vacate all or part of them. Their decision is expected to be rendered in the next couple of months.
Mobile lawyer Robert Cunningham Jr. of Cunningham, Bounds, Yance, Crowder & Brown, who accepted the case without pay, has spent the past couple of weeks in crunch mode, preparing the arguments he'll make today as lead attorney.
Other members of Alabama's legal team are UA attorneys Stan Murphy and Glenn Powell, UA graduate Chuck Cooper and Derek Shaffer of Cooper & Kirk of Washington, D.C., and Rich Hilliard of the Indianapolis firm Ice Miller.
Interim UA president Barry Mason, former UA president Andrew Sorensen and athletics director Mal Moore will also be in attendance.
Jerry Parkinson, law school dean at the University of Wyoming, will represent the NCAA Committee on Infrac tions (COI). Parkinson attended Alabama's hearing before the infractions committee last Nov. 17, although he did not weigh in the decision.
Newly appointed Clemson director of athletics Terry Don Phillips, formerly of Oklahoma State, will serve as chairman of the four-member appeals committee. New SEC commissioner Mike Slive, who is wrapping up his term as chairman, recused himself. The other committee members are Noel Ragsdale, faculty athletics representative at Southern California; Allan Ryan, Harvard University attorney; and Robert Stein of the American Bar Association, the committee's mandated public member.
Based on their findings of widespread recruiting violations, most involving boosters, the COI handed down stiff sanctions while failing to cite the university for lack of institutional control or failure to monitor.
The infractions committee imposed a five-year probation and a two-year postseason ban, took away six more scholarships on top of the self-imposed 15 offered by Alabama, restricted the school to 80 scholarship players for three years, cut down on the number of official on-campus visits and forced the university to disassociate from boosters Logan Young, Ray Kellar and Wendell Smith for life in addition to other penalties.
Alabama agreed with the NCAA on many of the charges but school officials maintain the penalties were excessive.
Sources close to the case say Alabama will fight all the additional sanctions except for the lifetime booster bans. There has been speculation Alabama would pursue a lawsuit against the NCAA if it loses the appeal but sources close to the case say that is a remote possibility.
Cunningham and the Alabama legal team are expected to put forth vigorous arguments on several fronts:
-- That the university should not have been penalized as a true repeat offender because the 1998 case involving assistant basketball coach Tyrone Beamon was self-reported and resulted in no sanctions.
-- The NCAA enforcement staff, which investigated the case and presented it at the COI hearing, relied on evidence provided an unidentified witness, contrary to bylaws.
-- The NCAA went beyond its statute of limitations in finding violations regarding the recruitment of Kenny Smith of Stevenson.
-- The enforcement staff did not supply information regarding the recruitment of Smith and Albert Means in a timely manner.
-- The structure the COI uses to hand down penalties is flawed based on recent rulings in cases involving Cal football, Wisconsin football and basketball, Minnesota women's basketball and Howard athletics.