It seems all Bama's recruiting pluck and grit hath writ is its name in the NCAA's hall of shame.
On Friday, the NCAA cuffed Alabama with five years' probation, including a postseason ban for two years and a loss of 21 scholarships over three years.
Over the past decade it seems the Crimson Tide has become the Michael Irvin of college football - always on probation.
Defensive back Antonio Langham landed Alabama in the NCAA's dog house for three years, starting in 1995, after he signed with an agent the morning after beating Miami in the Sugar Bowl to win the national championship.
But at least Langham got the Tide somewhere.
This time around, Alabama barely escaped the death penalty because of a cash-for-players scandal involving former recruits Kenny Smith, Albert Means and Travis Carroll, all of whom transferred.
So why feel sorry for Alabama? Because those taking the heat had nothing to do with it.
The infractions occurred under the tenures of Gene Stallings and Mike DuBose, neither of whom are college coaches now. "Rogue" boosters were the ones brokering the deals, which included a $20,000 payment to Smith's parents, a car for Carroll and a cash payment to Means' high school coach, who sought $100,000 and two sport utility vehicles to steer Means to Alabama.
All the NCAA's ruling does is leave current Alabama coach Dennis Franchione with a task tougher than Sisyphus' - rebuild the struggling Tide with little more than glorified walk-ons for the next five years.
Under NCAA regulations, rising juniors and seniors can transfer without having to sit for the requisite year. Translation: Any upper classman that wants out can leave. They'll want out.
Effectively, all the NCAA has done is punish a blameless group for the sins of another, but that's not to say the infractions should go unpunished.
If the NCAA ever hopes to clean up recruiting and regain its institutional credibility, it has to take the Barney Fife approach, which is to say nip it in the bud. That means start at the root of the problem; start with the athletes.
In the current scenario, Means, Carroll and Smith all got away scot-free - Means is now at Memphis and Carroll wound up at Florida - while Alabama takes it on the chin.
Why not punish the offending recruits? Should Means be allowed to play for Memphis while Franchione looks for a bunch of Rudys to suit up next year? Should Carroll be allowed to play at Florida while the Tide tries to keep its juniors and seniors from making an exodus of Biblical proportions from Tuscaloosa?
At the very least, these athletes should lose some part of their eligibility. While playing at Memphis might seem like punishment enough for Means, the NCAA needs to hit the athletes where it hurts. For many high-profile recruits, their four years of eligibility are all they have. If the NCAA suddenly took charge of the situation and punished not just the institution but the recruits who break the rules, don't think the athletes wouldn't give pause to think twice about a shiny new SUV or a little extra pocket money.
That's not to say recruits should bear the entire burden, but a little accountability wouldn't hurt.
Perhaps that's a little too rational for the NCAA. Infractions committee members seem a little too caught up in the good old boy network, rubbing elbows with BCS conference athletic directors and commissioners in hopes of a job, to affect any tangible change in NCAA policies. It's a joke.
Perhaps the NCAA could appoint a more objective group to make these decisions, people who aren't wanna-be ADs or former ADs themselves. Perhaps an independent group would be more suitable to make such decisions - adopt arbitrators like professional sports. All the Alabama case represents is the NCAA's unwillingness to change its polices or step up and do the right thing, regardless of the consequences.
On second thought, don't feel sorry for Alabama. Feel sorry for the NCAA.
Bama recruiting brings misguided ire of NCAA upon football program
Published: Tue Feb 05, 2002 | Modified: Sat Aug 06, 2005 04:03 p.m.