Admission of violations raises questions

Published 11:19 pm Thursday, March 5, 2009

Alabama’s admission to NCAA violations over textbooks raises a number of questions and long-term implications for a program that has found itself under NCAA scrutiny far too often in the past decade.

There’s a reason that the name Albert Means has become associated with Bill Buckner in that both have been given the same middle name by Boston and Alabama fans, respectively.

I’ll let you take a guess on what that name is.

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In 1999, Means was a highly recruited defensive tackle prospect from Memphis. According to the NCAA’s infraction report, his head coach and an assistant basically sold his services to the highest bidder. The cost was one SUV apiece, and the head coach received $100,000 in cash.

But, onto the questions. Is there such a thing as an innocent infraction?

One of the keys to a major infraction, especially that pesky lack of institutional control, is an awareness of a violation and doing little to stop it. According to the university’s response to the NCAA, the football players in question knew they taking advantage of the university and its Supply Store. However, “these student-athletes believed that because the textbooks were either returned to the Supply Store or charged to them if not returned, no NCAA rules were implicated by their conduct.”

It’s a fine line they can claim. A simpler, jargonless way of saying it is this: the students defrauded the university, but the university wants to claim their ignorance of the rules as its excuse.

The allegations in question are potentially major and include allowing athletes to improperly receive textbooks and other supplies, failure to monitor textbook distribution and failure to provide adequate education on the rules to athletes and employees at the university bookstore.

This list prompts another question for me. How is it that these athletes allegedly committed these violations over a span of at least three semesters, and no one noticed until one employee noticed one athlete’s charges of more than $1,600?

It wasn’t that long ago that I was in college myself. But I can guarantee that my textbooks did not average out to $320 per book for a five-class schedule, or $160 apiece in the unlikely event I ever signed up for 10.

The final question that will be answered in time is the long-range implications of the violations. If they are deemed major and blamed on lack of institutional control, there is a legitimate possibility that the death penalty may be used.

The Tide was placed on a five-year probation in 2002 in large part due to the Albert [middle name] Means scandal. The textbook violations’ beginning date of 2005 falls within that five-year window that would mark Alabama as a repeat violator. That spells the potential for consequences far more serious than five players missing four games.

So what will happen? The fact of the matter is, only the NCAA and Alabama’s administration know.

But one can only play with fire so many times before getting burned.