|Friday, February 1
Alabama banned from bowl games for two years
TUSCALOOSA, Ala. -- The NCAA placed Alabama on five years' probation Friday, jolting the program Bear Bryant built into a power with a two-year bowl ban and heavy scholarship reductions.
The governing body said it considered giving the Crimson Tide the most severe punishment -- the death penalty -- under the repeat violator rules for a recruiting scandal in which boosters were accused of paying money for high school players.
"They were absolutely staring down the barrel of a gun," said Thomas Yeager, chairman of the infractions committee.
"These violations are some of the worst, most serious that have ever occurred," he said.
The university, accused of 11 major violations -- one was later withdrawn -- and five minor charges under two former coaches, said it would appeal.
President Andrew Sorensen said university officials "are firm in our belief that the penalties are inappropriate."
"We regret that we must prolong this process, but the decision we have been given today is simply unacceptable," Sorensen said.
Barring a successful appeal, the program that leads the nation in bowl appearances (51) and wins (29) will miss the postseason for consecutive years for the first time since 1957 and 1958, the year Bryant arrived in Tuscaloosa.
The Tide contested the two most publicized charges involving claims of boosters making five-figure payments to lure two recruits.
But it admitted some violations and imposed penalties on itself, including a reduction of 15 scholarships over three years and the temporary disassociation of three boosters at the heart of the recruiting scandal.
The university-imposed sanctions did not include a postseason ban.
The NCAA reduced the number of football scholarships the school can award by 21 over three years. It also said the university would face tougher penalties if it did not permanently disassociate the boosters.
The sanctions could cost the university millions. Last year, Alabama received about $1.5 million from its share of the Southeastern Conference's bowl proceeds and its take from the Independence Bowl.
The violations occurred under former coaches Mike DuBose and Gene Stallings.
None of the accusations involve current coach Dennis Franchione or his staff. Franchione was out of town recruiting on the final weekend before national signing day.
"Although the penalties handed down today are much stiffer than we anticipated, the mystery is cleared up and we know what we are up against," he said. "The coaches, the players and I must roll up our sleeves and work that much harder to sustain and restore Crimson Tide football."
DuBose released a statement through a Birmingham law firm.
"I am deeply distressed and surprised by the severity of the sanctions handed down today by the NCAA," he said. "I am especially disappointed for the players, current coaching staff and all of the fans of our university."
If Alabama is found guilty of further violations during the probationary period, Yeager suggested the death penalty -- the elimination of a sports program -- could result.
"God forbid, there's ever another appearance -- ever," Yeager said. "Should there be one -- particularly within the five-year period -- I don't know what's left."
The university contended that accusations of a $20,000 payment to prospect Kenny Smith in the mid-1990s fell outside the governing body's statute of limitations.
Alabama officials also argued the NCAA couldn't prove that high school coaches for Memphis prospect Albert Means received money to steer the defensive lineman to Alabama, or that any money was linked to Tide booster Logan Young.
But the NCAA said a booster agreed to give Means' coach $115,000 to get Means to sign with Alabama and said three payments of $10,000 were made.
Means signed with the Tide, but has since transferred to Memphis. Young, a Memphis businessman, was one of the boosters dissociated from the university. He has denied any wrongdoing in the recruiting of Means.
"Those conclusions are erroneous and unfounded," said Jim Neal, Young's attorney in Nashville, Tenn. "As I look more at the NCAA and its procedure, the whole process appears to be basically unfair."
Alabama's football program was placed on three years' probation in 1995. All-America defensive back Antonio Langham admitted signing with a sports agent the morning after the Tide gained the national title with a Sugar Bowl win over Miami but returned to play his senior season.
Alabama would later win an appeal, getting one of the three years of probation lifted and nine of 26 scholarships restored.
Alabama's basketball program avoided sanctions in 1999 following claims that a former assistant basketball coach, Tyrone Beaman, tried to create a slush fund for recruits. The NCAA praised Alabama's handling of the matter.