Any discussion of the University of Alabama’s appeal of the sanctions handed down by the NCAA for football recruiting violation should begin and end with this caveat: Egregious violations were committed and the university fully deserves sanctions and probation.
That said, however, in handing down its penalties the NCAA, even though it is nominally a private organization and not beholden to strict legal standards, should be fair and objective and abide as closely to such honored American objectives as equal protection under the law.
It has not done so in Alabama’s case.
In making its case before the NCAA Infractions/sAppeals Committee in Chicago on Aug. 16, UA officials pointed out that Alabama is the first and only school in the sordid history of NCAA probation to receive a ban from post season bowls when there was no finding of a lack of institutional control over the football program, or a failure to property monitor the athletic department or no unethical conduct on the part of coaches or administrators.
In fact, throughout the investigative and penalty/phases of the case against the university, NCAA officials went of their way to praise UA administrators for their cooperation. And then they lowered the boom with three years probation, a two-year bowl ban and the loss of 21 football scholarships.
In arguing against the NCAA-imposed bowl ban and the loss of more scholarships than the university proposed in its own self sanctions, UA lawyers and administrators also protested the use of at least one “secret/s witness" in apparent violation of the NCAA’s own rules (not to mention the American legal right to face one’s/s accusers.)
While the University, which had to make its appeal/s behind closed doors insisted upon by the NCAA, has/s released all its documentation dealing with the appeal, the NCAA, as is its wont, has been extremely secretive about its reaction to the appeal.
About all we know is that a final ruling on whether the sanctions will be reduced is likely to come within six to eight weeks.
At which point the question will be, if the university does not get any relief, will it pursue legal redress?
Taking the NCAA to state or federal court would be a painful, disruptive process, but it has been done before, and in Alabama’s case there would be some compelling issues of fairness to be addressed.
And by bringing in high-powered legal talent from Mobile, Washington and Indianapolis during the NCAA appeal process, the university has shown it could be prepared to play for keeps.
Should Alabama go to legal war with the NCAA, we can imagine the reaction in college athletics circles would mirror the international reaction should the U.S. go to war unilaterally against Iraq. Our allies (fellow NCAA members, the international community) would hem and haw and wring their hands publicly, but in private would wish us every success.
But again, the University of Alabama is not without sin in this matter and does deserve punishment. How much is the question.