Is Alabama at risk of having its 2012 national title vacated?
You bet it is.
Yahoo Sports' Charles Robinson and Rand Getlin published an in-depth piece on Wednesday that details payments and benefits from agents being funneled through former Alabama defensive end Luther Davis to five SEC players: former Alabama offensive lineman D.J. Fluker, former Mississippi State defensive tackle Fletcher Cox, former Mississippi State wide receiver Chad Bumphis, former Tennessee quarterback Tyler Bray and current Tennessee defensive end Maurice Couch.
The article is especially concerning for Alabama, because not only does it involve a player who played an integral part of the 2011 and 2012 BCS national championship teams, it involves a former player acting as an intermediary.
He could easily be deemed a "booster" if and when the NCAA takes a look into the situation.
When Mississippi State disassociated from former player Kenny Rogers in the wake of the Cam Newton scandal, NCAA Bylaw 13.02.14 was cited as the reason, according to Brandon Marcello of the Jackson (Miss.) Clarion-Ledger. Rogers wasn't deemed to be in violation at the time, but the threat of him representing athletic interests in the future was enough to get him disassociated.
Some focus will be placed on one of the agents in the story, John Phillips, who's an Alabama alum, according to the Yahoo report.
"Luther knew me better than that—that I wouldn't do it because it's a felony," Phillips told Yahoo. "My legal career has always been more important to me."
That's probably accurate. After all, an individual's livelihood takes precedent over virtually everything else.
But if he has made a personal financial contribution to an organization that supports the university—including the purchase of season tickets—he would be considered a booster, according to Alabama's compliance department as per Roll Tide.
"Once a booster, always a booster," Alabama's compliance page states.
Of course, for Alabama's 2012 title to be stripped, the NCAA has to come up with proof that some or all the allegations in Yahoo's report are true. Considering the mass exodus of the enforcement staff over the last few years and the botched Miami case—which was also broken on Yahoo by Robinson—that's a tall order.
But this situation is different than the Newton scandal and the autograph situation that cost Texas A&M quarterback Johnny Manziel the first half of this season's opener versus Rice.
There is a paper trail—one that includes bank statements, invoices and cell phone records. Basically, the majority of the evidence that the public and NCAA lacked in the Manziel and Newton cases already exists in the Fluker case.
That's a rather strong jumping-off point for the NCAA.
Since this is a media report and not something the NCAA uncovered, the question then becomes: Can the NCAA verify those published records as accurate, and what else is out there for the NCAA to find?
Without subpoena power, the NCAA's job is incredibly difficult.
But there's a catch. Phillips himself acknowledged that agent laws could have been broken. If charges are brought up, then the NCAA will get information handed to it on a silver (or "green," if you're a fan of puns) platter.
That's not very likely though. Fair or not, an elected official bringing up charges that could result in one or more national titles being stripped almost certainly wouldn't be elected again in that state—even in a one-person homeowners' association election.
Talk about a precarious position for everyone involved.
When all is said and done, though, it boils down to this: Did Alabama know or should Alabama have known? That's ultimately what cost USC the 2004 title and why Jim Tressel is no longer employed at Ohio State.
That's a much different burden of proof, and something the NCAA is going to have a difficult time with.
Dan Wetzel wrote a fantastic companion column to the Yahoo investigative report pointing out the report reveals the foolishness of the NCAA's rules, but that Alabama won't get hit hard by the NCAA based on information in the report.
That may be an accurate guess and is certainly a proper representation of the archaic NCAA rule book.
But when you're pulled over for going 70 mph in a 45 mph zone, having a piece of paper in the glove compartment pointing out how ridiculous the speed limit is for that particular road won't get you off the hook.
There's already a mountain of evidence suggesting Fluker received improper benefits through Davis from several agents and financial advisers in 2012, bringing his eligibility during that particular season in doubt.
What the NCAA does with that information, what it can find on its own, when those hypothetical transgressions took place and how it classifies the individuals involved should have Alabama very concerned.
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