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June 14, 2012

Some good came from UA probation

In the wake of a few weeks filled with championships and celebrations, the University of Alabama athletic department had another significant moment pass without fanfare earlier in the week.

Perhaps it isn't right to call it a milestone, or plan for a parade to celebrate it, but UA officially came off NCAA probation on June 10, ending a three-year term imposed in the wake of its 2007 textbook case. The real cause for celebration, of course, would be not to go on probation in the first place - but Alabama is now in a position to work on that.

Since Aug. 2, 1995, a span of a little less than 17 years, Alabama has been on probation three times for a span totaling 10 years. A 1999 appearance before the Commitee on Infractions did not lead to probation.

The details of the various cases have been hashed and rehashed endlessly, but 10 years - a two-year stint beginning in 1995, five more starting in 2002 and the just-concluded three-year stint - are too many.

The textbook case had some impact on the 2007 season, both on the field and in the record book, but by the time the NCAA ruling came down in 2009, it did not have much visible effect.

Alabama won two BCS titles during this probation, a fact that sounds worse than it actually was. UA didn't merit a postseason sanction, and it wasn't the only team on probation in New Orleans last January.

LSU is one of three SEC schools, along with Tennessee and South Carolina, currently on probation, but people only notice when prominent teams - USC and Ohio State are 2011 - are banned from post-season play. The question of whether there will someday be a legal challenge over whether NCAA sanctions can keep a team from participating in a BCS championship series not administered by the NCAA is worth pondering.

Still, unless you were in the UA compliance department, generating the extra paperwork required by probation, you probably didn't notice it at all over the past three years. It ended the same way, quietly. Alabama remains in the NCAA's repeat-violator window, which is different than probation, until 2014.

UA director of athletics Mal Moore said the athletic department intends to remain off probation for a long while, if it can.

"During these probation years, some really good habits have been formed," Moore said. "We are more aware of things, maybe some things we should have been more aware of before. We are all very conscious of compliance, and our compliance staff has done an outstanding job in educating every person in the department. We have enhanced the way we get information to alumni, to Red Elephant Clubs, to every support group.

"I think we are a stronger compliance group than we have ever been and that will hold true for years to come. We have restructured since Mike Ward (the compliance director for most of the past three years) left for Tennessee. We promoted Jonathan Bowen from within. Shane Lyons came aboard and replaced Dave Hart, and Shane's strength is in compliance from his days as the No. 2 person in the (Atlantic Coast Conference) office, so we feel we are very strong there in way we have realigned our staff."

Moore stressed, though, that compliance requires more than a vigilant staff.

"No question,the end of this probation has been a long time coming," he said. "We're pleased that we're past it, but it takes every person who loves the University to help support our compliance people. That's what we have stressed for these three years and will continue to stress."

Reach Cecil Hurt at cecil@tidesports.com or 205-722-0225.

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