TUSCALOOSA, Ala.—Responding to questions regarding a Yahoo! Sports article alleging that one of his players received improper benefits while at Alabama isn't exactly what Nick Saban had in mind for his Wednesday press conference.
Still, Saban stood at the podium Wednesday and took the beating, essentially issuing a five-minute-and-fifty-two-second-long no comment before exiting with a sarcastic "appreciate your interest in the game."
Questions will swirl around Alabama as it heads to College Station Friday for one of the biggest games of the college football season. But this situation won't go away in a week, as the allegations could potentially alter the history books of the Crimson Tide's recent dominant run over college football.
D.J. Fluker started at right tackle in every game of Alabama's last two national championship seasons, but the allegations of impropriety appear to center in the middle of those two years. So should the NCAA be able to prove that the benefits did exist, it could retroactively strip the Crimson Tide of wins, including a SEC Championship and a BCS National Championship.
But knowing and proving are two very different concepts. Especially with regards to the NCAA.
Despite multiple reports about Johnny Manziel accepting money for his signatures, the NCAA couldn't find definitive proof, and eventually accepted Texas A&M's self-imposed half-game suspension of their star quarterback.
But there is a dangerous precedent for when the NCAA can get its hands on concrete evidence of lack of institutional control at a university.
Ohio State was given a one-year postseason ban that may have cost the school a national championship last season, as well as three years of probation and a scholarship reduction after it was discovered that then-coach Jim Tressel did not disclose violations to the NCAA when his players were found to receive tattoos in exchange for memorabilia.
Alabama came off of three-year probation last summer, which stemmed from a violation of a textbook disbursement policy, but according to Don Kausler Jr. of AL.com, its repeat offender window is still open until June 10, 2014.
Things could get pretty hairy, pretty fast for Alabama if the NCAA can nail down hard evidence that Fluker received improper benefits, and Alabama falls in the repeat offender window.
Whether or not they can is another question.
The Yahoo! report has some pretty concrete details on money changing hands for five SEC football players from NFL agents:
The identities of these players were revealed in a web of financial and text message records belonging to former Crimson Tide defensive end Luther Davis. The records were turned over to Yahoo Sports by a source with ties to the NFL agent community who alleged that Davis was acting as an intermediary between several high-profile college football stars and multiple NFL agents and financial advisers.
Yahoo Sports was able to authenticate text message records, Western Union fund transfers, banking statements, flight receipts and other financial material linking both Davis and the five college football players. Yahoo Sports also found that three NFL agents and three financial advisers engaged Davis in transactions totaling $45,550. The three agents were Andy Simms, Peter Schaffer and John Phillips. The financial advisers were Jason Jernigan, Mike Rowan and Hodge Brahmbhatt.
Dan Wetzel of Yahoo! Sports wrote that the NCAA will most likely not be able to prove anything. He summed up his thoughts in this tweet, which was directed to Ohio State fans comparing it to Tressel's situation:
If there's a paper trail of Saban doing that, Bama is cooked. Otherwise, don't see NCAA getting this done. Sorry but Tressel killed you guys— Dan Wetzel (@DanWetzel) September 11, 2013
It's a pointless exercise to try and predict what the NCAA will do next, especially in regards to enforcement. the Yahoo! Sports article has substantial evidence that violations did occur, but the NCAA does not have a history of being able to follow up on media reports like this.
Recent investigations into the Cam Newton and Johnny Manziel scandal are certainly examples.
Sanctions and penalties could cripple the most dominant dynasty in college football. But with its recent history of fumbling high-profile cases, it doesn't appear the NCAA will be able to get this one right.