The NCAA's many problems: Perception clouds Alabama issue

Kevin C. Cox

The NCAA has an Alabama problem. Or it's really a Nick Saban problem. Or it's really a perception problem. Or it's really all, some, or none of those. Sound confusing? It is.

Let's back up: the NCAA probably has to do something about former Alabama tackle (and current chokeslam supermonster) D.J. Fluker and others allegedly accepting substantial amounts of money from agents while still in college. You can't not investigate that, after all.

What involvement Alabama should have? Well, we'll see; that's what the investigation's for, after all. But still—that's Alabama, the undisputed top program in the nation, embroiled in a potentially major improper benefits scandal.

There's your Alabama problem.

Complicating things substantially is Nick Saban's connection to multiple people in charge at the NCAA. As USA Today reports, Saban's boss at LSU was one Mark Emmert, now the president of the NCAA, and lest anybody think that relationship was anything but chummy, check out Saban's quote from his LSU days:

"Chancellor Emmert is absolutely the best boss I've ever had," Saban said at LSU in 2004. "He's the most significant reason I was interested in the job. Never once has he disappointed me."

There's your Nick Saban problem.

The connections don't end there, as Derrick Crawford, the director of enforcement at the NCAA is himself an Alabama graduate and in March spoke of perceiving an NCAA bias against his school. Crawford said that there isn't one, and that the NCAA doesn't target schools, but of course the director of enforcement says that, you know?

So while Crawford will almost certainly recuse himself from the process of determining what, if any, punishments the NCAA will mete out to Alabama, he can still act as a liaison to help Alabama stay compliant elsewhere and thus avoid further punishment, much as former head of committee on infractions head Gene Marsh (himself an Alabama faculty member) helped the Tide a decade ago when it faced serious sanctions. This, too, from USA Today:

In the end, the NCAA hit Alabama with penalties that included a two-year postseason ban, five years probation and the loss of 21 scholarships. Yet Tom Yeager, then-chairman of the infractions committee, declared that it could have been worse if not for Marsh and Alabama's compliance director, Marie Robbins.

The efforts of Marsh and Robbins "not only saved the university from the death penalty but also more serious sanctions that would have been imposed," Yeager said then.

In other words, the NCAA is coming right out and saying that having someone on the inside can help soften the blow. And once again Alabama's got someone.

Compounding matters is that the NCAA infractions committee quite famously deliberates privately on matters of sanctions and doesn't follow strict, rigid guidelines for the punishments it hands out. There's no example of X infraction getting you Y sanction, for example. The committee issues lengthy reports along with its sanctions, but again the dialogue with the public is pretty much one-sided.

Thus, it's very, very difficult for fans to look at the NCAA's process for sanctions and see any rhyme or reason to the punishments handed out, and in the absence of that "A to B to C" road map, fans necessarily fill in the dots their own way, whether it's fair or not, and that can erode public trust in the NCAA.

There's your perception problem.

And somewhere in this morass, the actual question of what to do about D.J. Fluker receiving improper benefits twists in the gales of hot air about Alabama and the NCAA and public opinion.

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