Alabama Football Fans Are Blinded by the Light of Nick Saban and National Titles

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Alabama Football Fans Are Blinded by the Light of Nick Saban and National Titles
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For the second time in three years, the University of Alabama is the king of college football. The Crimson Tide took care of business by throttling LSU 21-0 Monday night in the BCS National Championship Game at the Superdome in New Orleans.

When paired with Auburn's title last year, the state of Alabama is home to the last three national champions—a feat never before accomplished by any state.

A state that ranks near the bottom in many socioeconomic indicators clearly is No. 1 in the realm of college football. That means almost all of Alabama's citizens these days are cheering wildly, crowing incessantly, or both.

Those who believe in separation of church and state might want to visit Alabama and check it out. College football is our state religion, and Bryant-Denny Stadium in Tuscaloosa and Jordan-Hare Stadium in Auburn serve as our treasured cathedrals.

Church and state in Alabama are "inextricably intertwined," as lawyers are prone to say, and that's just how our citizens like it, especially when the football church keeps churning out national championships every year.

Alabama fans should revel in their national title, and Auburn fans should puff out their chests with knowledge that they played a major role in a history-making "three-peat."

But when sanity is restored in our state—and it might take a while—Alabamians should ponder this thought: The two men who played the largest roles in shaping our football powerhouses both have ties to massive financial fraud.

The head coaches—Nick Saban at Alabama and Gene Chizik at Auburn—provide the stern but agreeable public faces for the programs. But they are just caretakers—with one down year or a big contract offer from another employer, they could be gone with the wind.

Paul Bryant Jr. (Alabama) and Bobby Lowder (Auburn) have been the real power brokers behind the programs.

Both have deep ties to the financial industry, both have served as university trustees, and both have given money and made decisions that turned UA and AU into national powers long before Nick Saban or Gene Chizik arrived on the scene.

UA fans today are heaping adulation on Trent Richardson, A.J. McCarron, Courtney Upshaw and other Crimson Tide stars. AU fans are dreaming about last year's exploits of Cam Newton, Nick Fairley, Mike Dyer and other Tiger standouts, and wondering when Chizik will make another title run (memo to Gene: It had better be soon).

That's the way it should be. Sports are meant to be a pleasant diversion, and it's certainly more pleasant when your team wins than when it loses.

But Alabamians should not be blinded by the fact that we've put our universities—and millions of public dollars—in the hands of people like Paul Bryant Jr. and Bobby Lowder.

As reported here at B/R last week, Bryant and one of his companies, Alabama Reassurance, have unmistakable ties to an insurance-fraud scheme that netted a 15-year federal prison sentence for a Pennsylvania lawyer/entrepreneur named Allen W. Stewart.

The mainstream press in our state has happily ignored the story, and that's probably the way our citizens want it as long as the national titles keep rolling in.

Lowder, the former CEO of Colonial Bancgroup, was a prominent player in the largest bank collapse of 2009. A Florida man named Lee Bentley Farkas has been sentenced to 30 years in federal prison for his role in the failure of Colonial Bank.

Alabamians like to keep score, so let's check the scoreboard on the financial dealings of the money men behind UA and AU football: Paul Bryant Jr. and his company conducted business with a man who is serving a 15-year federal prison sentence; Bobby Lowder and his company conducted business with a man who is headed to the federal slammer for 30 years.

College football fans in Alabama should enjoy the glory while they can. If federal authorities ever take a close look at the money flowing in and out of the two programs—and the sources from which it comes—it could all take a mighty tumble.

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