Five years after nearly destroying Alabama’s football program, the then-chairman of the NCAA’s infractions committee says the NCAA violated its own rules of procedure, punished the university based on dubious evidence, and issued sanctions far too severe for the alleged violations. Doug Segrest of the Birmingham News has the details:
The longtime former chairman of the NCAA’s Committee on Infractions testified Wednesday that he believed the NCAA went overboard in its 2002 prosecution of the University of Alabama football program.
David Swank, who held the position of chairman for seven years and served on the committee for nine, testified in a defamation and privacy suit against the NCAA brought by disassociated booster Ray Keller in Jackson County Circuit Court. Swank questioned the NCAA’s finding of three major violations against Alabama and Keller and said the NCAA may have violated its own rules by using confidential sources. The NCAA also violated rules by not turning over all the available evidence to the infractions committee during a November 2001 hearing in Indianapolis.
Alabama lost 21 scholarships as a result of probation.
Swank questioned the finding that Alabama boosters were responsible for paying $20,000 to land blue-chip prospect Kenny Smith for two reasons – the use of confidential sources and the NCAA enforcement staff’s failure to pass contrary findings to the infractions committee.
Included in his testimony were several points of concern:
Swank said investigators did not relay the claim of North Jackson High booster R.D. “Dorris” Hicks that he was the source of the money, and it may have been used to recruit Smith to play at North Jackson. The NCAA said the late Memphis businessman and UA booster Logan Young was behind the payment. “There’s no question (booster) Wendell Smith gave Kenny Smith Jr. $20,000,” Swank said. “But where did he get it? If he got it from Dorris Hicks, there was no NCAA violation.”
Swank said that if Keller bought Kenny Smith and his parents meals after North Jackson football games then he committed a secondary violation, not a major one.
If Keller introduced then-prospect Eric Locke to UA boosters Smitty and Virginia Johnson at an A-Day Game, he committed a secondary violation, not a major one, Swank testified. Swank pointed out that Kenny Smith’s father, Ken, testified in court that lead investigator Rich Johanningmeier actually suggested the NCAA had evidence Keller would “sponsor” his son at Alabama. The sponsorship allegation was “cloudy,” at best, Swank said.
The NCAA should have been more skeptical of linebacker Travis Carroll’s claims that Keller gave him $100 bills in four separate payments. Swank said the NCAA took Carroll at his word about a potential major violation but did not allow Keller to respond to the allegation.
Swank said the NCAA violated its own bylaws on confidential sources by using recruiting analyst Tom Culpepper as a secret witness in the case. Swank said what was presented to the infractions committee “was not the actual conversation” that took place in the NCAA’s interview of Culpepper. Culpepper was identified to Alabama officials but not to members of the committee, who only learned of his allegations when Johanningmeier passed out copies of a summary of his interview at the hearing. “The whole purpose of identifying witnesses is so the committee can judge credibility,” Swank said. “You need to know who the individual is, where he came from and what his background is.”
Culpepper’s claim that Keller disagreed with NCAA rules should not have been considered at the hearing, Swank said. Likewise, Culpepper’s claim that the former booster had close relationships with Alabama players, including former quarterback Andrew Zow, should have been dismissed because of his confidentiality.
Culpepper’s claim that Keller played a role in getting Carroll an SUV was doubly bad, Swank said, because Culpepper said he learned the news from another unnamed source, Swank said.
The NCAA enforcement staff erred in not revealing Tennessee coach Phillip Fulmer as a confidential source to the committee. Fulmer accused Alabama of wrongdoing and met with Johanningmeier in 2000 to discuss the case, although his testimony was not considered in the hearing.
Swank said the enforcement staff was wrong in not passing on all information to the committee, and investigators should have followed up with interviews of key figures who could have refuted charges against Alabama.
Swank said the NCAA should have interviewed former Tide player Fernando Bryant, who could have shed light on Carroll’s claims.
The NCAA also failed to pass on a statement to the infractions committee from former Alabama defensive coordinator Ellis Johnson, who explained that Logan Young was not the source of a Mercedes Benz that Bryant drove. Instead, Johnson told investigators that relatives of Bryant who played in the NFL bought the automobile.
Attorneys for both sides sparred most of the afternoon over Swank’s testimony, forcing Judge John Graham to send jurors out of the courtroom on numerous occasions.
Swank, a law professor at the University of Oklahoma since 1963, represented the school in one NCAA infractions case and served as interim president during another investigation, which resulted in the resignation of former head football coach Barry Switzer.
There was irony in Swank’s testimony Wednesday. As chairman of the Committee on Infractions in 1995, he was highly critical of Alabama’s handling of Antonio Langham’s eligibility case, which resulted in the university’s first football probation.
When Alabama was hammered again in February 2002, Swank was highly critical of the program in an interview with CNNSI.com, telling the Web site, “This is one of the most serious cases I’ve ever seen.”
However, most of Swank’s ire was directed at the NCAA’s finding that Young lured Albert Means into signing with Alabama for payments totaling $115,000. Swank did not address the Means violations Wednesday. NCAA attorneys are expected to cross-examine Swank today.
Unfortunately, Alabama has no remedy here. Five seasons are forever lost, coaching careers ruined, and several classes of players had the chance to compete for SEC and national titles taken away.
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