Friday, June 12, 2009

Ivan Maisel is Easily Impressed

By now I’m sure you’ve heard about the NCAA handing down sanctions to 16 Alabama athletic programs, including the football team, for its athletes improperly obtaining textbooks. All teams were placed on probation for three years and the football team, which according to the chairman of the committee on infractions had four of the worst offenders, was forced to vacate 21 wins from the 2005-2007 seasons.

(Note: Three of those wins came against Ed Orgeron-led Ole Miss, but before the Shrimp Boat can go bragging to all his friends at Tennessee about how he actually went 3-0 against Alabama, he has to realize that the term “vacating” doesn’t mean the same as “forfeit.” In a rule that only the NCAA could create (or perhaps the federal government), Alabama will have the wins taken out of the record books, but teams like Ole Miss will not be allowed to change those loses to wins. I know. This is completely logical. So Ed Orgeron’s record against Alabama remains at 0-3, while Alabama’s record against Ed Orgeron becomes 0-0. Seriously, this is the solution the NCAA finds to be the best.)

After the NCAA’s ruling was released yesterday, ESPN’s Ivan Maisel wrote a column on the whole situation that I couldn’t believe he actually turned in and allowed to be published. Normally, I find Maisel’s writing to be pretty solid. He’s seemingly well connected in college football and knows enough that he can write on just about any team or conference. But this column was just a bit much. So in honor of the old website, let’s attempt to break this down as they used to do so masterfully.

(Maisel’s words are in bold, mine are below his.)

With the announcement Thursday that the NCAA has wrist-slapped Alabama for its textbook problem, the university's rehabilitation might be complete.

Not so long ago, the school didn't have a textbook problem. It was a textbook problem.

Rehabilitation might be complete? Didn’t they just get hit with three more years of probation? By my count, that makes three stints on probation since 1995. One more slip up in the next three years and the velvet hammer of NCAA justice will come reigning down.

Oh, and is Rick Reilly selling independent sentences now? Only he could craft that textbook sentence.

Here stood a two-time loser in NCAA court, a school that lost a total of 38 scholarships in two cases only seven years apart, a school that as recently as 2002 made the NCAA lawyers dust off the death penalty to see whether it fit Alabama's crimes.

To quote the 2002 chairman of the committee on infractions Thomas Yeager, “God forbid, there's ever another appearance — ever. Should there be one — particularly within the five-year period — I don't know what's left.”

Yet on Thursday, the NCAA Committee on Infractions imposed no scholarship reductions on the Crimson Tide football team or any of the university's other 15 teams that had 201 players obtain free textbooks for their buddies.

The committee ordered Alabama to vacate 21 victories in football and one in tennis. The university also must pay a fine to the NCAA of $43,900, the cost of the free textbooks distributed. That's not quite 48 cents per seat at one of the Tide's seven games at Bryant-Denny Stadium this fall.

Well chairman Yeager, looks like another appearance isn’t such a big deal after all.

Something has changed at the Capstone. In recent weeks, coach Nick Saban worried aloud that the university had not defended itself aggressively enough to the NCAA Committee on Infractions. That is quite a change from a university that for years didn't appear to take the NCAA Manual seriously.

Nick Saban may be many things, but a fool is not one of them. Of course he’s going to stand up for his team and demand that his bosses do the same. Giving him credit for doing this is like giving people credit for breathing.

And are they really taking the NCAA Manual seriously? As said earlier, this is NCAA visit number three in 14 years.

Take yourself back to 1993, the year after Alabama won its sixth AP national championship. Alabama had never been on NCAA probation. When coach Gene Stallings discovered that corner Antonio Langham's eligibility might be in jeopardy, the university's investigation consisted pretty much of a broom and a rug under which to sweep it.

Once the NCAA determined that Langham had signed with an agent, and that athletic department officials dithered in their investigation, the hammer came down. When the Committee on Infractions ruled in 1995, it took away 26 scholarships and put Alabama on three years' probation (later reduced to 17 and two, respectively).

The committee used the term "distressing failure" in its report to describe the action of athletic director Hootie Ingram, Stallings and others in their investigation of Langham.

But they kept that national title. And can we all agree that the world could use more old men named Hootie?

Lesson learned? Seven years later, the NCAA came after the football program in the case of Albert Means, a Memphis defensive tackle recruit. Again, the university failed to understand what it had at stake.

In the days before the NCAA announced its verdict, faculty athletic representative Gene Marsh, a member of the Committee on Infractions who had recused himself from the case, told athletic department officials that Alabama had no reason to worry. The football team might lose a scholarship or two, but there wouldn't be any bowl sanctions.

The NCAA stripped Alabama of 21 scholarships, added a two-year bowl sanction, put the football program on five years' probation and described the university as "looking down a gun barrel" at the death penalty.

Whoops. I think the lesson learned here was don’t listen to anyone named Gene Marsh.

Coach Dennis Franchione, who had been at Alabama for little more than a year, said he felt blindsided. The tangible loss of scholarships took its toll on the football team. Franchione stayed one more season. Then came the five-month stint of Mike Price and the four-year slog of Mike Shula.

Football mediocrity, together with the intangible stain of being a two-time NCAA loser, took its toll on Alabama officials. They got it.

Wait? You mean we’re not supposed to cheat and we should take this NCAA thing seriously? Surely you jest.

This is the part of the column where the insanity is finally let loose. He’s crediting the school for taking the NCAA seriously and ignoring the tiny, tiny details that this is the third run-in with the NCAA in 14 years and that the way they responded this time is EXACTLY HOW EVERY SCHOOL SHOULD RESPOND TO THE NCAA. Yes, by all means, let’s praise a school that finally figured out the NCAA means business when they come around town and that arrogance isn’t the best tone to take with them. It’s like praising a parent for taking care of their kids. Congratulations, you’re now a normal member of society.

In the brief statement that he read to the media Thursday afternoon, athletic director Mal Moore said that Alabama "conducted an exhaustive review."

He added, "We have clearly demonstrated our intent to do things the right way."

I believe doing things the right way means not meeting with the NCAA every four and a half years.

On Thursday, Committee on Infractions chairman Paul Dee, the former Miami athletic director, said, "I think the University of Alabama did a terrific job."

I would hope so. After all this face time with the NCAA, they should be experts on investigating their infractions that continue to happen.

The penalties apply backward, not forward. Alabama must vacate 21 football victories. But that's about it. Where these textbooks are concerned, the NCAA made a molehill out of a molehill. Alabama accepted responsibility, performed its due diligence and fixed the flaw.

Again, way to go Alabama. You cooperated for the first time with yet another NCAA investigation. You should be proud. We’ll all look forward to another glowing article that commends your next round of cooperation in four and a half years. Never in my life did I expect to read a congratulatory column for the response to another round of rules violations.

In other words, in its dealings with the NCAA, the university finally found a textbook solution.

Again with a textbook line! I hope Reilly gave you a discount for buying in bulk.

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