Alabama Has Reasons To Appeal Penalties

Dr. Robert E. Witt

Could it have been any other way? Alabama announced Wednesday that it will appeal the sanctions imposed by the NCAA Committee on Infractions last week.



Even if it is only for show, Alabama owes it to its football players, former players, and fans, among others, to show some fight.

There is all sorts of bad news regarding an appeal, but one of them is not that the penalties can be made more harsh.

Start with the Committee on Infractions Appeals, which proved in a prior ruling on Alabama to be even less competent than the Committee on Infractions. It was obvious during the presentation by the chairman of the Appeals Committee that he had not only not been involved in the writing of the appeal denial, he could not even defend a critical mistake in that document.

All NCAA staff and committee members have demonstrated they feel they have carte blanche to steamroll member institutions. Within the past year the Appeals Committee has been given more broad power to ignore justice. In an incredible change of protocol, the appeal cannot be based on precedent. In other words, there is no burden on the Appeals Committee to be fair.

To recap the situation thus far:

The facts of the case are not in dispute. To great extent, neither is the verdict (more about that in a moment). The issue is the penalties.

In October, 2007, Alabama discovered a flaw in its system of distribution of books to athletes. The University immediately reported the situation to the Southeastern Conference and the NCAA . Alabama also took immediate steps to fix the situation and, in accordance with NCAA precedent penalized those Crimson Tide football players who had been implicated. The players were suspended for four games and then reinstated. Reinstated not by Nick Saban, not by The University, not by the SEC, but by the NCAA.

Alabama made an administrative audit and discovered athletes had been taking advantage of what the NCAA COI called "a gap" in its distribution policy for over two years and that it involved 201 athletes in 16 sports. The majority of those athletes had very limited participation and only a handful of those were identified as having been fully aware of the transgression. In any event, no athletes made any money from the situation. The only losses sustained were by Alabama's athletics department.

This was clearly an institutional matter and should not have been before the NCAA. The NCAA investigative staff sent a relative newcomer to Tuscaloosa to investigate. That investigator was not experienced enough to sign off on the matter for The University to handle, and so it was sent to the Committee On Infractions.

Although The University insisted the matter should not have been a case for the COI, the response from Alabama was agreement that there had been a failure to monitor.

Paul Dee, former athletics director at Miami, is chairman of the COI. In his presentation he said that Alabama had a competitive advantage. It is now clear that the COI made this incredible stretch of common sense so that it could justify having the case.

Dee was complimentary of Alabama's efforts in the case, then issue what a national sports reporter called "bizarre" penalties.

The University was not surprised to receive probation, though Alabama officials had expected to have a two-year penalty rather than the three years that was given.

Alabama was also fined approximately $43,000. This is outrageous to most thinking Americans. Alabama was the victim of theft to the tune of about $22,000 and the NCAA levied a fine equal to twice the amount against the victim of the theft.

Although it seems to be nothing more than a slap on the wrist to many, the vacation of 21 victories won by the efforts of hundreds of innocent Alabama football players and coaches, was particularly nefarious. The COI may have felt it had to do this to justify having the case. Dee compounded the ludicrous situation by announcing that the committee felt the vacation of those victories by all those innocent coaches and athletes was the best way to make sure the seven football players who took part in the textbook abuse were punished.

The penalties were announced on June 11. A school has 15 days in which to announce its intention to appeal. Less than a week following the announcement of the penalties, University of Alabama President Dr. Robert E. Witt announced the intention to appeal.

His statement:

"The University of Alabama will appeal the sanctions announced on June 11 by the NCAA Committee on Infractions regarding violations of the NCAA's policies on textbooks for student-athletes. We appreciate that the Committee recognized the isolated nature of this violation as well as UA's immediate and aggressive actions to correct the situation as soon as we discovered the problem.

"However, we are disappointed with the excessiveness of the sanctions in view of the facts of this case and the penalties in other textbook infractions cases. There is no evidence or allegations of other NCAA violations; no coaches or administrators were involved; no players obtained books and sold them for cash, and all the books were returned or charged to the student's account as required by the UA textbook policy in effect at that time.

"We are in the process of preparing our Notice of Appeal and will file it prior to the 15-day deadline (June 26). The University of Alabama remains committed to doing things the right way, and we will continue to work with the NCAA and the SEC as we focus on strict compliance with all NCAA regulations."

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