PLAYERS: TIME TO MOVE ON
By GREG WALLACE
TUSCALOOSA — Over. Finished. Done. No question, no doubt, nothing more to say.
That was the general reaction of University of Alabama football players and coaches to Tuesday's news that the NCAA Infractions Appeals Committee had denied the university's appeal of February sanctions against the program, which included the loss of 21 scholarships and two seasons' worth of pre- and postseason competition, as well as a reduction in scholarship players on the roster from 85 to 80 over the next three years, and a five-year probation.
At 10 a.m., the news came down; the Infractions Appeals Committee was giving the program no relief. That means no bowl games for the next two seasons, among other things.
But unless the NCAA suddenly appears on the 2002 schedule, you'd have a hard time convincing Tide players that Tuesday's disappointing news holds any value.
Their attitudes, at least publicly, were squarely focused on Saturday's 6 p.m. home game with undefeated Southern Mississippi.
"The NCAA is not on our schedule," senior center Alonzo Ephraim said. "(This is) nothing we can't handle. That's been over. We worry about Southern Miss; they're the most important thing right now. They're No. 1 on our schedule."
When the original NCAA sanctions came down in February, Tide Coach Dennis Franchione gathered his team to break the news, two hours before it reached news media outlets.
But Tuesday meant class and business as usual; there was no organized function for the players to learn the news, and some found out just before arriving for the weekly Tuesday news conference, which went on as planned.
Junior tailback Santonio Beard was pulled aside by director of media relations Larry White and informed of the news before he sat down with the usual cluster of sportswriters.
Not that it really mattered to Beard.
"Actually, once we heard about it (in February), it was over," Beard said. "We didn't think about (the probation) anymore. We have the extra game in Hawaii, and we're using the extra game as a bowl game."
Franchione faced the issue head-on; he released a short statement before the news conference, stating "nothing had really changed."
"We have worked our plan based on last February's ruling and we will stay the course," his statement said. "From this point on, we're on the downhill side of this issue and we can see the light at the end of the tunnel.
"We will maintain our focus over that which we have control and work hard to put the situation behind us."
Franchione already has triumphed, in a way. Although every junior and senior on the roster could have transferred over the summer because of an NCAA clause permitting upperclassmen who receive a two-year bowl ban to immediately play at a non-SEC, Division I-A school, none did.
Asked directly about the appeal in the news conference's first question, Franchione made it clear he'd rather talk football than findings.
"I've said all I want to say about the NCAA," he said. "I made my statement and any time I spend talking about those guys is a waste of energy, and I'm going to focus my time on what I have control over.
"That is this game and Southern Mississippi and this football team."
Quarterback Tyler Watts has admitted several times the team was laid low by the harsh nature of the sanctions when they were announced in February. They recovered. They forgot. They're done worrying about probation.
"Since then, it's just been business as usual," Watts said. "After you come to your senses and realize there's nothing you can do about it, you don't put a whole lot of time, effort or worry into what's going on."