Mobile attorney Robert Cunningham feels Alabama's appeal of NCAA punishment went well but says school still faces 'difficult challenge' in getting sanctions reduced
By THOMAS MURPHY
TUSCALOOSA -- The University of Alabama's legal team emerged from a 3-hour hearing with the NCAA Infractions Appeals Committee Friday still saying the school faces an uphill battle to have recently imposed sanctions against the football program softened.
"We feel it did go well," Mobile attorney Robert Cunningham Jr., UA's lead counsel in the appeal, told reporters after the hearing at The Westin hotel in downtown Chicago. "I did say at the beginning the case provided a difficult challenge and nothing that happened at the hearing today has caused me to change that opinion."
Alabama director of athletics Mal Moore said he was happy to see the two-year process coming to a close.
"We made our points we wanted to make," Moore said. "We said what we wanted to say. I'm very proud this is coming to an end."
Alabama is expected to release a redacted copy of its appeal brief Monday.
Alabama's arguments, according to sources close to the case, centered around a few key issues.
They were: NCAA enforcement's use of an unidentified witness, whether the NCAA's "repeat violator" bylaws were properly applied, inconsistencies in applying sanctions and whether Alabama's cooperation -- it was not cited for lack of institutional control -- was appropriately considered.
Alabama is seeking relief from a two-year postseason ban, the loss of six scholarships on top of the self-imposed 15, a five-year probation and other penalties imposed by the NCAA Committee on Infractions (COI) on Feb. 1.
The four-member appeals committee is expected to render a decision in the next four to six weeks. The committee can uphold the COI's sanctions or vacate any of all of those penalties.
Most of the NCAA's findings against the UA program centered around alleged improper payments and extra benefits given to Crimson Tide football recruits and players by boosters Logan Young, Wendell Smith and Ray Keller, who have all been disassociated from the athletic program.
Friday's hearing included a twist in that Thomas Yeager, chairman of the NCAA infractions committee, was in attendance. On the day the infractions committee revealed Alabama's punishment, Yeager said the school was "staring down the barrel of a gun," in reference to how close Alabama came to receiving the so-called "death penalty."
Alabama was also represented at the hearing by university attorneys Stan Murphy and Glenn Powell, outside attorneys Chuck Cooper and Rich Hilliard and interim UA president Barry Mason. Former UA president Andrew Sorensen, who is now in the same position at South Carolina, also attended.
Clemson athletics director Terry Don Phillips served as the appeals committee chairman in the absence of Mike Slive, who recused himself after becoming SEC commissioner on July 1. The other committee members hearing the appeal were 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.