TUSCALOOSA, Ala. - Calling the rules violations "some of the worst that have ever occurred," the NCAA Committee on Infractions said yesterday that it seriously considered imposing the "death penalty" on the football program at the University of Alabama.
While the NCAA did not completely shut down Alabama's program, as it did to SMU in 1987, it did bring the hammer down hard. Alabama's penalties included a five-year probation, a two-year ban on postseason bowls and the loss of 21 scholarships during the next three years.
If the two-year bowl ban remains through appeal, Alabama will not be eligible to play for a championship in the SEC title game.
In announcing the penalties, the NCAA Committee on Infractions issued a stern warning to Alabama, which has been before it three times since 1995: Do not, under any circumstances, come before us again.
"God forbid if there is another appearance," said Thomas E. Yeager, the chairman of the committee and the commissioner of the Colonial Athletic Association. "If they do, I don't know what's left."
The only thing that kept Alabama from the death penalty, said Yeager, was the way in which its compliance staff responded to the NCAA's charges.
"There is no question that Alabama was staring down the barrel of a gun," said Yeager. "Had there been a different approach, there was a clear legislative opportunity to impose the death penalty."
Alabama immediately said it will appeal the ruling, a process that could take more than six months, to provide a final resolution of the case.
Alabama president Andrew Sorenson and athletics director Mal Moore said they were "extremely disappointed" in the NCAA's decision. Both read statements to the media but would not discuss the basis for Alabama's appeal.
Alabama was charged with 16 rules violations, 11 of them major. But the penalties were almost exclusively the result of the activities of three Alabama boosters.
Logan Young of Memphis, Tenn., whose ties with Alabama go back to the Bear Bryant era, was accused of giving a high school coach $100,000 and a sport utility vehicle to persuade defensive tackle Albert Means to sign with the Crimson Tide. Means did sign with Alabama but transferred to Memphis.
Young and Alabama denied the charge in its report to the Infractions Committee last November. The NCAA report, however, indicated the committee was able to interview enough witnesses to substantiate the charge.
Chattanooga, Tenn., businessman Wendell Smith and lumberman Ray Keller of Stevenson, Ala., were involved in the recruitment of Kenny Smith, who never enrolled at Alabama after failing to qualify academically. Smith and his father, according to the NCAA report, received $20,000 in cash and other perks.
The NCAA told Alabama it must permanently disassociate itself from those three boosters or show cause why it should not be penalized further.
A fourth booster, who has not been identified, will be disassociated for three years for providing a car free of charge to an athlete for three months in the summer of 1999. When that athlete, linebacker Travis Carroll, transferred to the University of Florida, the car was repossessed.
The NCAA report included no sanctions against former head coach Mike DuBose or any of his staff.
Teams that are not eligible for bowls also do not participate in the SEC bowl-revenue sharing plan. That could cost Alabama a minimum of $2.5 million next year.