Alabama’s punishment unfortunate and unfair

Published 12:00 am Wednesday, February 13, 2002

Sports Editor

University of Alabama compliance director Marie Robbins is a former All-American gymnast for the Crimson Tide. She excelled in a sport in which the slightest miscalculation could mean disaster. Each move must be executed at precisely the right moment, time after time, to prevent a fall.

You would think she would have a pretty good concept of timing.

Sign up for our daily email newsletter

Get the latest news sent to your inbox

As the University prepares to make its appeal to the NCAA regarding recent sanctions against the football program, for which Robbins and faculty representative Gene Marsh were highly praised in their handling of, Robbins has chosen this time to make some very untimely remarks.

In a recent interview, she claims that warnings to the former coaching staff often went "in one ear and out the other", and accuses former recruiting coordinator Ronnie Cottrell of attempting to have her fired. She also expressed her disbelief that no charges were made against Cottrell and former coach Ivy Williams, both of whom were specifically mentioned for their involvement in NCAA violations. Robbins said their lack of punishment causes her to lose faith in the system.

What could she possibly hope to accomplish with such rash statements, especially now? I dare say none of her statements were particularly surprising, but to make them now definitely can’t help Alabama’s case for an appeal.

It’s obvious that the task is daunting enough as it is. Any appeal to the NCAA for leniency is far-fetched, although there do seem to be some holes in the case worth exploring. Alabama is one of the few schools to have had a successful appeal in the past, but that was upon their first appearance before the infractions committee, before the dreaded "repeat offender" tag was given them.

As expected, emotional reactions have been rampant throughout the state since the sanctions were announced. Alabama fans cry "unfair" while many Auburn fans revel in seeing their hated rivals get "what was coming to ’em". Neither group really has much justification for pointing fingers, though. Records show that Auburn is one of only three schools to be placed on probation six or more times, totaling 12 years of probation, while in the last ten years, Alabama seems bound and determined to catch up, while Auburn keeps its nose clean.

There are aspects of the punishment laid on Alabama that do seem somewhat unfair. The transgressions committed involved members of a coaching staff that no longer exists. Most had assumed this fact would be considered by the NCAA – that the guilty parties were no longer a threat to repeat their actions. After all, if you aren’t going to cite "lack of institutional control", the blame must fall squarely on the shoulders of the coaches and boosters involved. Yet none of the coaches were individually charged, although mentioned by name in the list of violations.

Alabama’s "repeat offender" status came only as a result of self-reported violations in the basketball program. Why punish the football program for violations in the basketball program? The NCAA also puts Alabama in the position of being better off not to have reported them. I don’t think the NCAA wants to, on one hand encourage self-reporting, then make it seem like a bad idea in the long run.

There are a few such inconsistencies that will undoubtedly be explored in the appeal.

Probably the most unfair aspect of the whole case is the prominent involvement of the so-called "boosters" (which is now a misnomer – they should hereafter be referred to as "ruiners").

How is a university expected to control the actions of a booster? Logan Young and others like him have no one to answer to for their actions (in this life anyway). Until some sort of legislation is introduced making it illegal to participate in such rules violations, there is no reason for them to discontinue.

Oh, you say they have been "disassociated" from the university? Boo Hoo.

You say they can no longer receive privileges that aren’t offered to the average fan?

They don’t need ’em! These guys can afford luxury boxes and limo’s. They aren’t gonna suffer much from not getting to ride the team bus.

Suppose I’m one of the wealthier men in Pike County and I’m an Alabama fan. Some kid, like CHHS’s Von Ewing for instance, comes along at a local high school who is recruited by all the big schools. What’s to stop me from driving across town to his house and offering him $5000 to sign with my favorite school? No one would ever know, nothing looks suspicious about it, and the school is in no way involved.

Or better yet: I really want to stick it to Auburn. So I make the same offer for the kid to sign with Auburn, and take measures to ensure that the NCAA DOES find out. After all, I don’t have to worry about getting in any kind of legal trouble for it. I could even arrange for it to be done so that my name is not even involved in the whole mess.

In either scenario, the school is in danger of probation for actions they had no knowledge of or involvement in. All because somebody likes to throw their money around.

Now clearly there was some knowledge of what was going on in this case, but again, it was by coaches who are no longer employed by Alabama. It’s a shame the current staff and players have to suffer for their activities.

I’m not sure, however, what alternative the NCAA had. They probably felt that something had to be done to send a message to the boosters and others involved and this was all they had at their disposal. I find it hard to believe they ever seriously considered the death penalty, though. The NCAA would have lost too much money to close down a big-name school such as Alabama. Why do you think they didn’t slap a TV ban on them?

In years to come, they will probably refer to "the Alabama case" as one which brought about quite a few changes in the way the NCAA conducts investigations.

And the means by which infractions are punished.