Thursday, June 11, 2009

Common sense prevails

With Florida State still in the midst of appealing a penalty that will strip the school of 14 victories, the NCAA has brought down the hammer once again.

The NCAA Committee on Infractions announced Thursday that Alabama will be forced to vacate all wins from 2005-07 that involved players found ineligible due to a textbook scandal. According to the university, that will result in the loss of 21 victories. Alabama also had 16 programs placed on probation and will be forced to pay a $43,900 fine -- the approximate value of the textbooks -- for "failure to monitor." For the record, the players who have been named in the investigation are former offensive linemen Antoine Caldwell and Marlon Davis, running back Glen Coffee and defensive backs Marquis Johnson and Chris Rogers.

There are two ways to look at these penalties. On one hand, losing a majority of the records from a three-year period in which the Tide went 23-15 will leave a serious black mark on the program that can never be erased. A stretch that included Nick Saban's first season and Mike Shula's best season -- 2005, when 'Bama went 10-2 -- officially goes into the media guides with the Tide's combined record at 2-38.

But in the grand scheme of things, Alabama came out relatively unharmed. Keep in mind that these NCAA proceedings were nothing new for 'Bama, which already had been involved in two embarrassing scandals (involving former cornerback Antonio Langham in 1995 and recruit Albert Means in 2002) in the past 15 years. The school was placed on probation both times and was stripped of a total of 38 scholarships -- in fact, the most recent probation just ended in 2007, Nick Saban's first year as coach. But this time, with no bowl restrictions or scholarship reductions, there's literally no impact on Saban or any of the Tide players going forward (outside of some negative press for a few weeks before fall practice gets started and people have something else to talk about). That's a fairly fortunate development for a school that has multiple major NCAA violations in its recent past and was approaching the death penalty as recently as seven years ago.

And despite my general opinion of Saban -- I give him an 11 out of 10 on my scumbag scale -- I think the NCAA got this one right. This was no grade-fixing scandal or pay-for-play atrocity; what we're talking about is a handful of players using their scholarship benefits to get textbooks for friends.

Anyone who's gone to college knows what a rip-off it is to pay $120 for each book, then try to sell it back at the end of the semester and receive $20 in return (and then know that it'll be sold the next year for $120 again). If i had stumbled across some loophole that enabled me -- and some friends -- to get a deal on textbooks, you can bet your ass I'd have taken advantage of it. And since textbooks aren't exactly cocaine -- last I checked, it was a good thing to gather educational materials while you're in college -- it'd have been kinda difficult for the NCAA to really come down hard on Alabama in this case.

It's not difficult to distinguish a guy distributing free textbooks from a guy getting paid for a job he doesn't really have or getting his grades adjusted in order to continue playing football. For once, I can honestly say that common sense won out in an NCAA decision.

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