HURT: Al Betar nothing like Ohio States trouble
At this point, nearly everyone has read or at least heard something about T-Town Menswear, the local business whose owner, Tom Al Betar seems extra chummy with University of Alabama football players.
Most have seen the pictures Al Betar, either out of a desire for business promotion or a curious narcissism, placed on his Facebook page, thus supplying the Internet world with fodder for the past week or so. They also earned Al Betar a disassociation letter from the University of Alabama athletic department about four months ago, long before this debate became public.
There is nothing wrong with people asking questions, including the bloggers who have done the most to bring Al Betar's pictures to the public. Furthermore, it is human nature to speculate. People - include those on both sides of the aisle in this matter - love to talk about what the NCAA might do.
The opinions range from "nothing" (from Alabama fans who consider the issue "dead") to "something" (from other fans, primarily.) If you choose to violate the first rule of NCAA-following - no one really knows what the NCAA is going to do - and you belong to the "something" camp, then there is an endless range of opinion on what that "something" may be. And one comparison people try to use - at least it is a name I have seen in most of the articles I have read on the subject - is "Ohio State."
I understand where the comparison comes from. Both are big-time football schools. Both are getting attention - serious attention, in Ohio State's case - due to situations that involve memorabilia.
But upon reading the NCAA's Case Summary against Ohio State, released last week, I am struck, not by how similar the two cases are, but by their differences.
The real issue at Ohio State, after all, is not that memorabilia was signed, or even that it was purchased from student-athletes, although that did create eligibility problems. To this point, no matter how suggestive pictures might be, there has been no direct evidence that any UA player received an extra benefit.
The reason the Ohio State case has turned into something serious can be summed up in five words: the compliance model broke down.
The head coach, when apprised of possible NCAA violations, did not turn them over to the school's compliance office and let them do their job. Every problem in the current case the NCAA is pressing against OSU stems from that one fact.
At Alabama, just the opposite seems to have happened. When the school became aware Al Betar was selling memorabilia, it appears - according to the documents UA has released so far - UA compliance acted in precisely the way it was supposed to act. It investigated the activities.
UA took the "appropriate steps" based on what it had found, sending Al Betar a cease-and-desist letter. When he didn't cease-and-desist, UA sent him a disassociation letter. That is about the limit of a compliance office's power against any individual. It cannot padlock someone's place of business and clap the owner in irons. And it is the response the NCAA expects a school to make.
If the NCAA asks to see the case file - which, given Alabama's allusions to repeated conversations with Al Betar, is probably thicker than anyone knows - it will likely find most or all of the information it is looking for. Technology Update: those files can be sent to Indianapolis electronically, just as the CEO of a major corporation can actually sign his daily correspondence even if he is in New York City and not sitting at his desk in Tuscaloosa. Such are the wondrous times in which we live.
Alabama has generally been proactive in compliance matters. It self-reported its own textbook case, and, even with the Tennessee game next on the docket, suspended the involved athletes. When Jerrell Harris was found to have taken an extra benefit in 2009, he was suspended for half the season. There is no reason - aside from conspiracy theory mania - to think UA has been anything less than thorough and forthcoming in this case.
So what comes next? Again, there is no hard evidence extra benefits have changed hands, no matter what inference one draws from Al Betar's photos.
Some people have tried to argue Alabama players are guilty of violating NCAA Bylaw 12.5.1, which prohibits their image or signature from being used in commercial ventures with their knowledge. That hasn't been proven either, but even if it is, there has not been a major-violation case involving Bylaw 12.5.1 in the past eight years.
That has held true even as the Internet has caused an unprecedented proliferation in the amount of signed memorabilia being bought and sold. Perhaps a helicopter full of NCAA investigators is going to descend, like Navy Seal Team Six, on University Mall over possible 12.5.1 violations, but in every other case in this decade (except a case where San Diego State was producing and promoting a video inside its own athletic department), those violations - which may or may not exist here - have been treated as secondary.
Like everyone else, I would be interested in hearing Al Betar's version of events. I understand outside events can make things change. The extra benefits given to Ohio State players were uncovered by an FBI investigation into money laundering, for instance. Time will tell. But at this point, any comparisons - to Ohio State, or A. J. Green or any other case one can cite - are premature, at best.