I've received a number of emails from some rival fans over the last few weeks, and have tried to answer them as honestly and civilly as time and their own level of respect required. But the overwhelming sense I get from the media circus surrounding the NCAA investigation and response, in addition to various points brought out in these emails, is unexpected astonishment.
As in, disbelief that "Alabama fans never learn" or "you're still as arrogant as ever", and "you got less than you deserve. You should be on your knees thanking God instead of on your feet screaming at the NCAA".
So, if my esteemed fellow Bama fans don't mind me doing this, rather than continuing to waste hours trying to educate the less enlightened one thick skull at a time, I'd like to answer the following question, in words that even an alcohol-besotten Memphis provocateur and his followers can understand:
WHAT THE HELL IS WRONG WITH YOU GUYS?
The short answer is, nothing at all. There is nothing wrong with being angry at injustice. Why should a man given a 20 year sentence for jaywalking be angry? Because the punishment is unjust. He isn't angry because he feels he didn't deserve punishment. He cut corners, broke a rule, and knows he must pay a price for it. But, there are supposed to be standards in play, within the law, that prohibit abusive punishment. In the case of a 20 year sentence for crossing the street in the wrong place, there is clearly abuse.
So, my "friendly" inquistors ask, where is the injustice? You've been in front of the NCAA three times in five years. What do you expect the result will be? You have boosters accused of breaking the rules, coaches accused of breaking the rules and the NCAA found a whole mountain of stuff against you guys. The press has been covering it for nearly two years. And, didn't Thomas Yeager himself call you "the most corrupt program he has ever seen"?
... And that is part of the problem. They ask "what's wrong with you guys?" when they ought to be asking: "do we have all the facts?" Thus, comes the long answer to the question...
Part one of the answer to the question is, "We're pissed because you keep overlooking the facts".
In 1995, the NCAA culminated an investigation into Alabama football by setting an unprecendented penalty for such a relatively light infraction...
Let me backtrack a bit. Let's go back further.
Back in the 80's, after Coach Bryant died, Alabama went through several years of turmoil. Ray Perkins came to Alabama, then left abruptly. Bill Curry was chosen, over the objections of a number of boosters and former players, then ended up leaving just as abruptly. Despite what people have said, neither was forced out, and, in fact, both left at the height of their popularity with Tide fans.
But, despite this turmoil at Alabama (and other SEC schools), Pat Dye had a very stable situation at Auburn. And a couple of SEC titles as a result. In fact, even in Coach Shug Jordan's heyday, Auburn rarely had a period of excellence like they did under Dye.
But, it all came crashing down with Eric Ramsey.
I won't bore you with the details. Suffice it to say that Auburn boosters seethed at what they saw as an injustice. Alabama fans gloating over the conference's perennial cheaters "getting caught again" didn't help matters. Some were anxious to "get even". And, in Gene Jelks, they thought they had their answer.
It is known that Jelks met with AU boosters on several occasions. It is also known that Jelks lived comfortably in a very nice Atlanta apartment, with about $35,000 in "salary", but no visible means of earning it (this information, courtesy of Jerry Pullen's lawsuit against Jelks, before the judge finally put the clamps on information). It is also known that several unnamed AU boosters met in central Alabama, copying a bunch of checks allegedly paid to Jelks (supposedly for work he didn't do... a charge of which the man who wrote them was cleared by the NCAA, later), checks obtained illegally when an AU booster "acquired" them out of the file of a divorce lawyer, who had them as evidence of the husband's, who had employeed Jelks, financial state. The booster never said where he got them, and no one ever pressed the issue, again.
Yet, despite two years of Jelks accusing, all the NCAA ever found on Alabama were an instance where Jelks received some form of assistance after his eligibility was over (from a source he never accused, by the way) and the brouhaha over Antonio Langham and the agent (a matter repeated every year, with no NCAA penalties, at dozens of schools, because it is considered too minor to worry about).
Alabama was hit with excessive penalties in the case, and the faculty rep to athletics was slandered. We also know that Roy Kramer asked for the level of severity Alabama received (courtesty of Joe Buffington, a former NCAA investigator who was there when Kramer asked for it). The penalties were eventually reduced, in appeals, and Dr. Jones, the faculty rep, received a nice out of court settlement. Key point, here, missing from all the other talk: Alabama's 1995 NCAA penalties had nothing to do with recruiting, and were questionable.
Fast forward to 1999.
An assistant basketball coach, Ty Beamon, attempted to solicit funds from two Montgomery-area Tide boosters, for the purpose of "purchasing" the services of a Houston high school player. The boosters ended the conversation, called Alabama compliance, an investigation ensued, and the player's recruitment was blocked. The coach was relieved of recruiting duties and was eventually fired. The NCAA praised the efforts of both boosters and the school, and extended the probationary window. Why? Because they could.
Bottom line? This case was about recruiting, but the matter was handled properly.
The current case is about recruiting improprieties. Further, it is the first time Alabama boosters have been accused of such, in it's history, to the NCAA.
No one is questioning whether the school acted properly in the matter. The NCAA gathered evidence, the school saw the evidence, and based on precedent, disassociated three boosters (well, technically, two boosters and a man, Wendell Smith, who only qualifies on the loosest of definitions). Yet, the school had problems with the way the NCAA's investigators and enforcement committee came to some of its conclusions.
First, not all of the information the NCAA had was shared in a timely manner. Tennessee and other SEC schools were informed of issues with Means' recruitment. Alabama was not. Rumors abounded, but rumors abound about a lot of players (RE: Jimmy Williams, a Va Tech signee accused falsely by Roy Adams of stiffing his landlord for rent and other improprieties). Marie needed proof to block Means' recruitment, and didn't get it.
Second, the NCAA violated its own statute of limitations on the Kenny Smith charges. Investigators claimed it was needed to establish a pattern, yet the University had already assumed the guilt of some boosters without it, making this an empty argument.
Third, the NCAA's COE used evidence it had not shared before, at the COI hearing, in direct violation of NCAA Bylaws.
Yet, despite reasonable arguements against the charges, the COI not only rubberstamped COE wrongdoing, they added insult to injury by insulted Alabama boosters, in general (most of whom would never consider breaking a rule), and refering to UA as the "most corrupt program" the Chairman, Yeager, "had ever seen".
... In other words, what's NOT to be pissed about?
When the facts are viewed in light of all this history, it is easy to see why some fans think the SEC and NCAA "have it in" for Bama. I don't necessarily think it's a conspiracy, but I do believe the process has suffered from a lack of standards and propriety.
One of the reasons there are standards in civil and criminal cases, for penalties, is to ensure that judges don't act excessively. We are, after all, emotional creatures. Arrogance and defiance are irrelevant, Logic and standards dictate the proper course of action, to prohibit excess and unneccesary insult on the part of the "enforcers".
Coming: Part II, "Due Process and The Media Circus"