‘Black Friday’ doesn’t spell doom for Crimson Tide

Published 12:00 am Wednesday, February 20, 2002

Sports Columnist

"Black Friday" they’re calling it.

The end of the world as we know it for Alabama football fans everywhere.

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The day the big, bad NCAA delivered the knockout sucker punch of all times to the Crimson Tide football program.

Pessimists come out of the woodwork, claiming the Tide will be lucky to have a winning season for the next five years or so. Many have openly stated their opinions that Alabama may never recover from this.

But is it really all that bad? Oh, it’s bad, I assure you ­ but is it really as extreme as some would lead you to believe?

Many felt (or maybe more accurately, wished) that this year’s recruiting class would be devastated by the NCAA’s announcement of penalties on the Alabama football program. Coach Fran and company had been forced to deal with a cloud of doubt hanging over their program throughout the entire recruiting process, no doubt having to field questions from potential signees and their parents that they could not fully give an answer for.

Yet by all indications, they had put together a quite impressive list of commitments. However, given the fact that the NCAA penalties were revealed just days before those commitments signed on the dotted line, the feeling was that many of them would rethink and choose another school.

Apparently, the word "commitment" still means something to some these days and only a couple of players changed their minds before signing day. One of those, receiver Ben Obomanu, considered the biggest catch of them all, chose to go with Auburn after hearing the news from the NCAA.

While some undoubtedly mourned the loss of such a "blue-chipper", it brings up an interesting point: how do we really know that a player like Obomanu can translate his superior high school skills to the college level, or more specifically, the SEC level?

I’m sure we can all run down a list of "the next Bo Jackson’s" or "the second coming of Joe Namath’s" that have come and gone through the years. Does the name Billy Ray ring any bells? How about Freddie Kitchens?

The simple fact is the college game is a completely different game. It’s played at a much faster pace. The 250-pounders run a 4.5 40-yard dash, and everybody on the field and both sidelines were once high school all-stars. It comes down to a calculated gamble whether a high school prospect even earns a starting spot on a college team. And even if he does, there’s the ever-present danger of a career-ending injury that makes it, as cruel as it may seem, a wasted scholarship.

You’ve got to hand it to Coach Fran when it comes to planning ahead, though. He’s said all along that he came into this job with his eyes open to the possibility of NCAA sanctions. And although he was as stunned as anyone by the severity of it, in hindsight it seems apparent that he took some carefully calculated steps to prepare for just such an emergency.

There were quite a few freshmen on Alabama’s sidelines last year, such as Brodie Croyle and Roman Harper, that many believed could have made an immediate impact if pressed into action. Yet by choosing to redshirt so many of them, Coach Fran now has at his disposal, in effect, one and a half recruiting classes that will have four years of eligibility to see them through the probation years. By carefully selecting several from this year’s incoming freshman to redshirt, he can effectively add to part of another year’s recruiting totals, helping to make up for scholarship reductions over the next few years.

Another storm the Tide seems to be weathering is the potential exodus of current players, which is always a concern when probation comes. Under normal circumstances, a player transferring from one Division I school to another must sit out one year. However, in the case of a postseason ban, such as Alabama has been given, juniors and seniors may transfer to another school outside the conference and be eligible to play the same year. Some players that seemed potential candidates for this were Kenny King, Kindal Moorehead, Ahmad Galloway, Tyler Watts, and Dante Ellington. Some were actually contacted by other schools, but to this point, none have jumped ship.

As expected, rumors began to resurface that Franchione may seek employment elsewhere. He was specifically rumored a candidate for the Tampa Bay Buccaneers job, but he quickly doused that flame on his website with the lead line "Tampa Bay, No Way." He also informed reporters, in his first public statements about the NCAA appeal to be filed by the university, that he plans to be with Alabama "for the long haul".

Alabama officials still are optimistic about their chances for an appeal to the NCAA regarding their case. If you check into the specifics of the appeal, you see that lawyers for the University have some very valid points to go on, as they lay out some obvious inconsistencies in the NCAA’s implementation of their own rules and bylaws concerning NCAA investigations.

There are silver linings to be found for the Crimson Tide faithful, and one need look no further than across the state to see proof that probation does not have to spell extinction for a football program. If Alabama could somehow tap into the resolve that Auburn displayed during its probation season of 1993, they too can turn lemons into lemonade. Auburn was even saddled with a television ban that year, yet they went undefeated and forever placed an asterisk by the name of that year’s national champion.

Don’t count the Tide out just yet.