‘Bama put on probation

Published 11:11 pm Thursday, June 11, 2009

TUSCALOOSA (AP) — The NCAA placed Alabama’s football program and 15 other of the school’s athletic teams on three years’ probation for major violations because of misuse of free textbooks, stripping the Crimson Tide of 21 football wins during a three-year period.

The NCAA said 201 athletes in 16 sports obtained “impermissible benefits” by using their scholarships to obtain free textbooks for other students. Alabama identified 22 athletes, including seven football players, as “intentional wrongdoers” who knew they were receiving improper benefits.

As a result, the NCAA ruled the football team must vacate any wins in which any of those seven players took part during 2005-07. Alabama said that pending a successful appeal, the decision would cost the program 21 wins, including the 2005 Cotton Bowl victory over Texas Tech and an upset of Florida earlier that season.

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Eight of the wins using ineligible players occurred in 2005, Mike Shula’s best season as coach.

Neither the football team nor any other sport lost postseason eligibility or scholarships.

“The penalty itself is not one that’s directed at the coach,” said Paul Dee, who chairs the committee on infractions. “It’s one that involves the team. It’s one that involves the players and we believe it’s the appropriate penalty under these circumstance.”

The other 15 “wrongdoers” were members of the men’s tennis, and men’s and women’s track and field programs. The NCAA said those individuals must vacate any records they hold and team point totals will be reconfigured accordingly from regular season and postseason events.

The student-athletes acquired textbooks and materials of value greater than $100 for friends and other student-athletes. The four biggest offenders in dollar value were among the seven football players, who received from $2,714 to $3,947 in improper benefits.

The other sports hit with probation were softball, baseball, gymnastics, women’s basketball, soccer, volleyball and both the men’s and women’s teams in basketball, golf, swimming, tennis and track and field. Only five of the school’s 21 athletic programs were not involved.

The university was ordered to pay a $43,900 fine.

Alabama officials expressed disappointment with the severity penalties, noting that no coach or staff member was involved and none of the players gained financially. Athletic director Mal Moore said the university was considering an appeal.

“A small number of athletes took advantage of the program to obtain textbooks for their friends, textbooks that had to be returned or paid for at the end of the semester,” university president Robert Witt said. “It’s important to note that no coach or staff member was involved in the violation, no sport gained a competitive advantage and not one athlete pocketed $1.

“The penalties imposed affect the past. They do not impact our future. They in no way affect the ability of our football team to compete fully without competitive disadvantage.”

Neither Moore nor Witt fielded questions after delivering prepared statements.

Alabama, which didn’t contest the allegations, is a repeat violator because the program was placed on five years’ probation in February 2002, when it was also under the five-year window for basketball violations.

The sanctions come at a time when Alabama fans were celebrating the football program’s return to national prominence. Coach Nick Saban led the Tide to a 12-0 record and a No. 1 ranking last season, before the team lost to Florida in the SEC title game and Utah in the Sugar Bowl.

The university uncovered the violations after an Alabama Supply Store employee realized that an athlete had more than $1,600 in charges for the fall 2007 semester and alerted school officials. Athletes get free textbooks with their scholarship, but some were accused of getting additional textbooks for other students.

The NCAA said the athletes weren’t restricted by purchase limits or required to show photo identification.

Alabama has changed some of its procedures, including requiring compliance officials to be present when student-athletes pick up their books.

“We conducted an exhaustive review and we have corrected and strengthened our textbook monitoring process,” Moore said.

Saban, who replaced Shula after the 2006 season, suspended five players — Antoine Caldwell, Glen Coffee, Marquis Johnson, Chris Rogers and Marlon Davis — for four games when the university uncovered the violations in 2007. The Tide was 5-2 at that point, and finished the season 7-6.

“I am happy for the players,” Saban said at a golf event in Birmingham. “This is not going to affect their future or the players we are recruiting.”

The university has said the athletes involved who still have eligibility remaining have had to pay restitution.

“Although the committee commends the institution for self-discovering, investigating and reporting the textbook violations, it remains troubled, nonetheless, by the scope of the violations in this instance and by the institution’s recent history of infractions cases,” the NCAA said.

Opponents who lost games vacated by Alabama won’t be allowed to change their records to reflect a victory.

The NCAA said about 125 athletes received benefits totaling less than $100 each. The university was cited for not adequately monitoring the process or having a system for detecting the violations on a timely basis.

The university could not produce records before the 2005 fall semester, so it’s unclear if similar violations occurred earlier.

Dee praised Alabama’s handling of the matter once the wrongdoing was uncovered.

“I think that the University of Alabama in this particular case had a problem that was just magnified by the number of athletes that were involved and the system that they had in place had what I might consider a gap in it,” he said. “And the student-athletes took advantage of it.”