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Sep 18, 2002

UA officials not off hook

Featuring: Robert T. Cunningham

Commentary by RAY MELICK 
BIRMINGHAM POST-HERALD 

TUSCALOOSA — On the one hand, it doesn't make any sense. How do you penalize the University of Alabama for rules violations the institution is not charged with? How do you praise the institution for its absolute cooperation, then come back and hammer the athletics department as if it had stonewalled every step of the way? 

That's the problem with the NCAA's final ruling on the Alabama case. There is no argument here that the penalty did not fit the crime; it did. The problem is that the university was not formally charged for what it was found guilty of, yet it was punished for what it was never charged with. 

Nowhere in the NCAA report does it say the University of Alabama was found guilty of lack of institutional control, or even failure to monitor, two of the most serious accusations the NCAA can levy. In fact, nowhere in the report will you find any major charges leveled against any university personnel. 

And yet the NCAA Infractions Appeals Committee agreed Tuesday with the Committee on Infractions, which in February punished the Alabama football program in a way previously reserved only for those institutions found guilty of lack of institutional control. 

On the other hand, it makes perfect sense. The heart of the NCAA's entire case against Alabama is best described as a booster case, and can be summed up in this one sentence from Tuesday's report: "The Appeals Committee agreed with the Infractions Committee that in this case, the athletics representatives were 'not typical representatives' due to their 'favored access and insider status' and that this favored access and insider status created 'greater university responsibility for any misconduct in which they engage.'" 

In other words, Alabama officials should have known. In fact, you could say the NCAA Committee on Infractions believes Alabama officials did know what former "boosters" Logan Young and Ray Keller (in particular) were up to. Not only does the NCAA say Alabama officials probably knew, the Infractions Committee basically said that, while it praised the school for its booster education program in the 1999 case, it believed the athletics department could not be trusted to try to corral the activities of Young and Keller. 

In fact, one booster even admitted as much, telling me, "Let's say I'm guilty of what they say I'm guilty of. How did I know what athletes to give money to if no one from the inside was telling me?" 

The logic is inescapable, and yet it has somehow escaped those bright, penetrating minds of the NCAA. 

So why the hypocrisy? Why act as if the NCAA was doing Alabama some kind of favor in not laying blame on an actual employee of the school, whether past or present? 

And speaking of hypocrisy, are we really expected to feel sorry for the University of Alabama athletics department? 

The school's proposed $41 million budget for the 2002-03 fiscal year includes an expected loss of $2.2 million in revenue because of NCAA penalties (the schools' share of the conference bowl money distribution). 

At the same time, the school asked for $400,000 from the board of trustees to pay for the fees incurred in its appeal of the NCAA sanctions. It also accepted a 13th game in Hawaii this year, a game that will, even with the hotel rooms and airfare arrangements that the University of Hawaii can provide, still cost the Alabama athletics department at least $200,000. 

And there is this little matter of the 10-year, $15 million contract being negotiated with Coach Dennis Franchione (which still hasn't been agreed on, by the way). 

Let's see — you're going to lose more than $2 million a year for the next two years, but you're willing to spend what some might consider a frivolous $600,000 on an appeal and a 13th football game that you're treating like a bowl trip, plus give your head football coach a substantial guaranteed raise? 

That hardly sounds like an athletics department that is overly concerned about a heavy price to be paid by NCAA sanctions. 

So Alabama goes on. The administration can claim it has been exonerated, that it was the victim of "rogue boosters" over which it had no control. 

Unfortunately, at the heart of it all is a case in which the Alabama administrators cannot claim innocence. The NCAA is not talking about thousands of boosters, or even hundreds. It's really talking about only two men who were not only well-known but made welcome within the university administration, one of whom was a frequent guest of not only athletics directors (past and present) but also university presidents at various official functions over the years. 

Forget secret witnesses and the statute of limitations. The NCAA might not have had the courage to lay the blame at the feet of any current or former University of Alabama administrators, but no one is fooled. 

Former university President Andrew Sorensen and Athletics Director Mal Moore may claim these things were beyond their control, so here's a little tip: 

How do you control rogue boosters? For starters, stop inviting them to dinner. 

Ray Melick's column appears each Monday, Wednesday and Saturday in the Birmingham Post-Herald. 

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