The fan reaction to the news this week his been typical. The word “fan” is a derivative of the word “fanatic”, and fanatics do what fanatics typically do when news like the textbook case at Alabama comes down the pike.
You have one side, the Aubies, buying Vaseline by the case, fantasizing about the possibilities of hearing their big brother being told we are “staring down the barrel of a gun” again in public forum. Harkening back to the days of flogging in the town square, nothing gave them more pleasure than seeing the University of Alabama football program dragged through the mud nationally, then sitting back and watching the effects of our probation fall like dominoes in front of them. Six straight wins over us were the direct result of our undoing. And after last November’s taste of how the future can be, they are holding on to every hope, fantasy and prayer that something like this would come along to undercut the angry giant in Tuscaloosa, poised to stomp a mudhole in them every time the Foy trophy is on the line.
Then you have the Alabama fans. Angry at the media for creating this story. Delusional in thinking that this is much ado about nothing. Skipping through the flowery fields and tiptoeing through the tulips as they wonder if Greg McElroy or Star Jackson can lead us to that 13th win next year against Tebow. The horror of the last ten years still fresh in their minds, who can blame them for wanting to self-inject a little dose of amnesia. Like someone in shock, denying the reality of the situation is a very effective way of dealing with the angst that it could happen again.
Now, most of you are familiar with my stance. I am an Alabama “fan”atic and alumnus. But with that in mind, let me speak to both groups briefly.
For my Auburn friends, let me assure you, a loss of 18 scholarships and five years of probation isn’t likely going to happen again, nor is the subsequent leadership of inept fools during “any probationary period” going to fall effortlessly into your laps. The Means case was about much more than Albert Means, with more sidebars and subplots than a bad fiction novel. Believing you’re in for the same smorgasbord of blue and orange goodness as you were before is just that: fiction.
For my fellow members of the Bama nation, let me assure you, this isn’t a vapor. If the NCAA wants to make an example of us again, we’ve served ourselves up on a silver platter for them. Repeat offender status is definitely in their reach if they want to go for it. The media isn’t creating this; in fact, one of the most objective and competent journalists in our state broke the story (Cecil Hurt of the Tuscaloosa News). It’s my understanding that he chased this story for almost a year, but if you read or hear Cecil on a regular basis, you get the sense that while he is favorable to Alabama doing well (it sure makes his job easier), he has enough integrity to do his job despite the circumstances.
So where do we go from here, and what will ultimately happen? Borrowing one of the most ambiguous phrases in writing, only time will tell. But some things aren’t up for debate:
First, this is about one issue. Not Means plus this booster and that used car lot and this Memphis coach. It is about textbook privileges afforded to University of Alabama athletes.
Secondly, it is about University of Alabama athletes, not solely the football program. It is my understanding that the track team had as much or more to do with the overall folly than the football team. I’m not naive enough to think the flood waters stopped at the foot of the football building, but the reports exchanged between the Unversity and the NCAA the last year make it clear that Alabama football specifically isn’t on the chopping blocks. One can use this fact to hold out hope that a bigger penalty will come down, but I refer to my first point (above) on that idea.
Third, if sanctions are handed down, they will be a far cry from the caning we received in 2002. What will they be? Will there even be any? Don’t know. But whatever side of the fence you sit on, don’t expect the public grandstanding by the NCAA on this one. This one is cut and dry and will be handled in like manner.
And finally, whatever condition we find ourselves in on the playing field, Nick Saban will manage our resources in those conditions far better than Mike Shula did. In the depths of our lows under probation, there were winnable games that got away because Shula wasn’t mentally tough. A football team will never rise above the level its leadership. If we do find ourselves on the stormy seas once again, finally we have a captain who can navigate us through the choppy waters. He took a team of average to just above average talent in 2008 (with one good recruiting class) and for five weeks made a serious run at a national championship. 3-9 isn’t in our forecast again.
It’ll be interesting to see how the weeks unfold. Now, if another shoe drops in that time, and more is added to the story, then delete this article and watch the snowball gradually start to build. But if not, put a date on the calendar at some point in the future for a blip to appear on the radar screen and let’s get ready to watch an NCAA tournament that we won’t have a team in.