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Was the NCAA Too Harsh on Alabama?

A Bama Fanís Honest Assessment.

Posted by BBA on February 23, 2002


On February 1st, the NCAA Infractions Committee released its report on the high profile, sensational case of alleged major infractions by the University of Alabama, Tuscaloosa. Since the NCAA saw fit to mention the '95 case and the '99 case as part of its justification for the severity of the sanctions it imposed, here is a look at the last 10 years of the Alabama-NCAA relationship.

On November 12, 1992, a newspaper ran an article containing statements by Gene Jelks, alleging that NCAA rules violations had occurred during his recruitment and after his subsequent enrollment at Alabama. In late 1992, and early 1993, the NCAA enforcement staff conducted several interviews with the former student-athlete and other individuals who reported potential rules violations.

In the early hours of Jan. 1, 1993, a tired but jubilant Antonio Langham was celebrating Alabama's national championship. During the course of this celebration he met an agent. This agent talked him into signing, on a napkin, a contract to represent Langham for $400. We don't know whether Langham was drunk or what his true motives were at this time. We do know he did sign the napkin.

These 2 events are the catalyst for the 1995 sanctions. In the first allegation, Jelks initially claimed that he received cash to play football at Alabama. These allegations could not be proven. In fact, during the investigation, information was developed that pointed to Jelks receiving money to MAKE the allegations. The investigation only revealed that Jelks had taken out loans without making the proper arrangements with the university. The loans were obtained at financial institutions where Alabama "boosters" were officers. Some, if not all, of these loans took place AFTER Jelks had used all of his eligibility.

The question that many want to know is what did the university do wrong? From the 1995 NCAA report, "The institution failed to obtain the required documentation for the student-athlete's purchase of disability insurance. These records would have revealed the existence of at least one impermissible loan." Also mentioned in the report is the fact that Jelks LIED to the university during this process.

Was the university at fault to some extent? Yes. We should have been more diligent in our compliance practices. The investigation showed that our process for documenting this kind of activity was lacking.

Did we try to hide anything or "cheat"? No. Simply put, our compliance department was not very good in 1989.

The second part of this concerns the Antonio Langham incident. There has been much debate on this and lots of misinformation. In a nutshell, Langham was celebrating and thought about "going pro". Some agent talked him into signing a $400 napkin. Langham, when thinking clearly about it, didn't want to go pro. He told Coach Gene Stallings that he had signed up to enter the NFL draft but wanted his name taken off. He neglected to tell Stallings of the napkin incident. Later in that year, Stallings was made aware of an agent who was claiming Langham had signed a contract.

This is the most hard-to-get-at-the-truth point of this charge. There is no indication that Stallings tried to hide or cheat with Langham. AD Hootie Ingram has stated that they had 5 or 6 signed, notarized affidavits from Langham stating that he did not sign with an agent. When the agent finally came forward and made Alabama aware that Langham had indeed signed a contract, Stallings suspended Langham, right before the SECCG game. There was no intent to play ineligible players, just a poor effort at finding out the truth of the matter. Langham contributed to the mess by lying to Stallings about the contact with the agent. Stallings' mistake was trying to investigate this. That was not his job. The mistake was made worse by the ineffective efforts of Ingram. Both should have turned it over to the compliance officer.

During the course of the investigation (including deliberation by the Committee on Infractions), someone "decided" that Dean Tom Jones, the Faculty Representative, had lied to the NCAA about his actions. The NCAA later regretted making that charge. Jones sued the NCAA for slander. The NCAA, knowing it couldn't back up it's charge, settled out of court for a seven-figure settlement.

So, for this entire investigation, which spanned nearly 3 years, the NCAA found:

  1. Our compliance department was not very well organized, which allowed a student-athlete to take out a loan, which he shouldn't have taken out.
  2. We botched an in-house investigation of a player signing with an agent.

For that, we self-imposed:

  1. Disassociation of two representatives of the institution's athletics interests. (Those associated with loaning Jelks the money.)
  2. Reduction by four in the number of permissible financial aid awards in football during the 1995-96 academic year.

The Enforcement Staff had reached an agreement with the university on that penalty. However, when this went before the Committee on Infractions, they decided to "stick it to" the university. They tacked on:

  • Public reprimand and censure.
  • Three years of probation.
  • Prohibition from participating in post-season competition in football during the 1995-96 academic year.
  • Reduction by four in the number of permissible financial aid awards in football during academic years 96-97.
  • Reduction in the number of initial financial aid awards in football by 13 during the 1996-97 academic year and by nine during the 1997-98 academic year. That is 22 ADDITIONAL scholarships.
  • Forfeiture of the 11 regular season football games in which an ineligible student-athlete participated during the 1993-94 academic year.
  • Requirement that the institution continue to develop a comprehensive athletics compliance education program, with annual reports to the committee during the period of probation.
  • Requirements that the university send four individuals to an NCAA rules seminar each year of probation.
  • Recertification of current athletics policies and practices.

In the history of the NCAA, this was the most blatant overreach and over-penalization ever. The NCAA used a bazooka to kill a gnat. To this day, Alabama fans cannot understand why the NCAA chose to "hammer" Alabama for so seemingly minor infractions. And keep in mind, we are not now claiming we were innocent, just let the sentence fit the crime. Also, one thing this should not have done was set a precedent of how the NCAA would deal with Alabama in the future. The NCAA should deal with each institution equally, equitably and fairly.

One more thing to keep in mind. Alabama disassociated the boosters who were involved in the minor infractions. We didn't hide it, didn't fight it, didn't excuse it. We did NOT let our boosters run amuck. We took our punishment and implemented the changes.

Now, fast forward to the Tyrone Beamon case.

In 1998, assistant basketball coach Tyrone Beamon was recruiting a hotshot basketball player out of Houston. Beamon got the bright idea (according to him, I guess) to contact boosters and solicit funds from these boosters in order to pay coaches to "steer" their players to Alabama. Beamon contacted 2 boosters in Montgomery and set up a lunch. Over lunch he laid out his plan and request. The boosters told him they would get back to him.

After returning from the lunch, OUR BOOSTERS called our athletic department and notified them of this illegal request. The athletic department initiated an internal investigation. Upon verifying the facts, the coach was summarily fired and, in keeping with the new procedures requested by the NCAA for good Institutional Control, filed a report with the NCAA, notifying them of the rules violation.

At this point it is important to notice, we did EXACTLY what the NCAA wanted. The institution took care of a rules violator and notified the NCAA. The NCAA praised our compliance team. The coach, the only person in the incident who broke the rules, had a show cause order placed on him for 4 years. Yet, inexplicably, the repeat violator window was extended for the university. Little did we know how huge that ruling would become.

So, as it stood in the summer of 1999, the University of Alabama had a history of:

  • Making drastic changes to the Institutional Controls in the Athletic Department.
  • Disassociating boosters who broke rules.
  • Having boosters who did not tolerate illegal activity.
  • Self-reporting known rules infractions to the NCAA.

Over a period of 2 or so years, the Alabama compliance department was bombarded with bits of information regarding the conduct of Alabama coaches. In several instances, the compliance staff reported things that no one else would report. One example:

During one summer, while new recruits were going through the admissions process, one of the recruits was allowed to stay at a coach's home. This was reported as a violation. The story that isn't reported in the NCAA report is that the young man had become ill. He was carried to the coach's home so his wife could look after him, as they were very concerned about his well-being. He stayed for a few hours during one day. Yes, that is technically a violation. But I would venture a guess that 90% of the schools in the country would not have reported that "incident" to the NCAA as a violation. That is how strictly our compliance staff was trying to operate.

Here is a list of the items that the University of Alabama self-reported:

  1. A coach made too many off campus visits to evaluate players.
  2. A student-athlete was allowed to compete in an athletic contest, even though he was ineligible. (Why this was reported as an infraction I'll never understand. He was cleared by the NCAA Clearinghouse to compete, then his ACT was invalidated after he played in athletic contests).
  3. A student-athlete put 2 names on the complimentary pass list but pocketed $100.
  4. A coach contacted a member of the Alabama State Troopers and put him in contact with a student-athlete. This facilitated the student athlete being able to get a speeding ticket negated.
  5. A coach allowed a student athlete to rest in his home for several hours.
  6. A coach instructed the university to place several student athletes on a 15-meal plan in the student cafeteria when only a 5-meal plan was authorized.
  7. A student athlete with a wealthy uncle gave recruits money to give to a stripper who he had hired to "entertain" them. No evidence of university personnel having knowledge of this was presented.

As you can see, this is really a "damning" series of violations isn't it? I'm being sarcastic. This is the kind of stuff that goes on at EVERY school in the country. Again, not condoning this behavior but pointing out that this is very common at many schools.

In the summer of 1999, word began to spread about the activities of Lynn Lang as it pertained to the recruitment of Albert Means. No one has yet answered the question why our compliance department was not aware of these rumors. As just previously noted, ALL rumors of misconduct by Alabama coaches or boosters were thoroughly investigated and misconduct reported to the NCAA. The NCAA soon learned about the stories coming out of Memphis. For some unknown and unexplained reason though, the NCAA failed to give any warning or notification to the University of Alabama.

In February of 2000, Alabama signed Albert Means to a National Letter of Intent. In July of 2000, before the football season began, the NCAA was conducting a full-scale investigation into Albert Mean's recruitment. Still, the NCAA did not notify the University of Alabama. Means played in almost every game that season. At some point during the season, Alabama compliance officials became aware of the Means rumors. All indications are that the compliance team investigated the rumors but could not substantiate the allegations. There is still no explanation why the NCAA did NOT officially notify the University of Alabama about the rumors and information it had received.

In January of 2001, several media outlets ran stories alleging that Albert Mean's high school coach had been paid $200,000 dollars to "steer" Means to Alabama. This set off a media feeding frenzy of Titanic proportions.

In February of 2001, the NCAA issued a Preliminary Letter of Inquiry into the football program at Alabama. Thus began the most massive investigation in NCAA history. The NCAA had already put their "chief bloodhound" on the case. Hundreds upon hundreds of witnesses were interviewed. I know of cases were players from Mississippi State University were interviewed by the NCAA, even though these players were never even recruited by Alabama. The NCAA spared no expense and effort to uncover every "questionable action" they could find.

During the course of the investigation, Alabama's compliance department worked diligently and forthrightly to uncover all evidence possible. From the NCAA report " In this case, by contrast, university officials cooperated fully with the enforcement staff, often at great personal criticism, in a diligent effort to develop complete information regarding the violations." Yet through all of this, the NCAA still withheld evidence and the identities of at least one witness. What was the NCAA trying to do?

Even more troubling was the inclusion of a FORMERLY CLOSED case concerning the recruitment of Kenny Smith of Stevenson, Al. The NCAA had previously been notified of this case, had taken a preliminary look at it and declined to pursue it. It was beyond the statute of limitations cited in the PLOI. Yet, the NCAA included it in this case on the word of a secret witness, and only to establish a "pattern of conduct" by one booster. It is apparent they wanted to "nail Logan Young".

Now comes the question of the conduct of the investigators. Several people who were questioned have said that they had more information to give the investigators, but the investigators were not interested. I don't know about you, but I believe an investigator should always be on the lookout for information. You never know when you might need it on that case or on another case. One of the boosters named in this case has stated that there were a dozen or so people who could testify to the facts of the case regarding a vehicle "given" to a student athlete. None, and I repeat, none of these witnesses were ever questioned.

Many have said that the questions asked by the investigator led them to believe that he had already made his mind up. He wasn't asking for information, just confirmation. If their answers didn't confirm his beliefs, he wasn't interested in talking to them. To any rational person, it would sound as if the people doing the investigating had their minds made up before they gathered the evidence.

Alabama's strategy during this entire investigation was to cooperate totally. This was done AND recognized by the COI. Imagine the surprise that our legal team received when, at the COI hearing on Nov. 17, the Enforcement Staff presented evidence that had NOT been made known to Alabama at the pre-hearing conference 2 weeks earlier. The pre-hearing was the opportunity for both sides to essentially present their case and evidence to each other so that the COI hearing would be free of any surprises and that both sides could effectively deliver their case. This NCAA bylaw stipulates:

32.5.12 - NCAA Summary Case Statement. Not later than 14 days prior to the date of the institution's appearance, the enforcement staff shall prepare a summary statement of the case that indicates the status of each allegation and identifies the individuals upon whom and the information upon which the staff will rely in presenting the case. This summary shall be provided to the members of the Committee on Infractions and to representatives of the institution and involved individuals prior to the hearing. The committee may waive this 14-day period for good cause shown. (Adopted: 10/12/94)

In this case, the NCAA violated this bylaw. Why would they do that? That is just one more indication of unfair treatment by the NCAA.

Finally, at the end of this entire investigation, the chairman of the Committee on Infractions stood up and leveled a bitter, threatening tirade against the University of Alabama. He was very unprofessional in his comments. He used the words "repeat offender" and "death penalty" over and over, yet the death penalty could NOT have been invoked because of our compliance team's and the University's cooperation and was never even voted on by the committee. He was obviously grandstanding. Why?

Can anyone not look at this entire case and the previous cases and see where the fans of the University of Alabama feel that the NCAA has treated us unfairly? Make the assumption that every allegation leveled against Alabama by the NCAA is true. We received no Failure to Monitor or Lack of Institutional Control. No former coaches or Administrators were charged with any wrongdoing (save Ronnie Cottrell's answer to a question about a legal loan.) Yet we were hit with over double the penalties that Kansas State and Wisconsin were subjected to.

In the case of Kansas State, they had 7 boosters giving money to student-athletes. They were a repeat offender, the previous case being in women's basketball. They only had probation extended for 1 year and lost NO scholarships. They had NO bowl ban.

In the case of Wisconsin, they had 2 previous cases of LOIC. This case involved dozens of athletes getting impermissible benefits from a booster. Also, Wisconsin not only "didn't disassociate boosters long enough" (as we were charged), they actively and defiantly refused to disassociate them, AT ALL, prior to their COI hearing. Yet the NCAA only subjected them to 12 scholarships lost (up from the incredibly brassy 2 they self-imposed). No post-season ban was imposed. In fact, no college or university not cited with (at least) Failure to Monitor has ever been given a bowl ban. Ever. Until Alabama.

I believe it is apparent that Alabama was singled out and "made an example" of by the NCAA on 2 different occasions. We are NOT claiming innocence. All we want is fairness and equitable treatment comparable to other institutions by the NCAA.

Do you think we are being treated fairly?

Bryan Alexander
Harvest, Alabama