The NCAA is squarely in the crosshairs of the public after its seemingly haphazard enforcement of its rules, the inability or refusal to properly compensate players and an archaic and lengthy rulebook.
That may come to a head soon, if the NCAA does dig deeper into the University of Alabama. As Brent Schrotenboer of USA Today points out, Alabama head coach Nick Saban has a longtime relationship with NCAA president Mark Emmert; and Alabama has two potential extra benefits cases on its hands.
In September, Yahoo! Sports revealed that four former and one current SEC player received extra benefits including cash from financial advisers and agents, funneled through former Crimson Tide defensive lineman Luther Davis.
One of those players was former Alabama All-American offensive tackle D.J. Fluker, who played for the Tide from 2009 to 2012. One of those agents, according to Yahoo! Sports, is Alabama alum John Phillips.
Just last week, star safety HaHa Clinton-Dix was suspended indefinitely from the program for taking a loan from assistant strength and conditioning coach Corey Harris, according to a report from the Tuscaloosa News. Clinton-Dix received the loan after his 2012 Dodge Charger was broken into and an iPad, cash, speakers and various items of clothing were stolen.
While the Clinton-Dix suspension stems from an internal investigation and there is nothing official from the NCAA's end yet, essentially having a runner on staff will certainly draw its attention.
As Schrotenboer points out, that will test personal relationships that date back more than a decade.
NCAA president Mark Emmert and Alabama head coach Nick Saban have a long relationship, dating back to 2001, when Emmert—then the chancellor of LSU—hired Saban away from Michigan State to be the head coach of the Tigers.
Saban commented on his relationship with Emmert in 2004, according to Schrotenboer:
"Chancellor Emmert is absolutely the best boss I've ever had. He's the most significant reason I was interested in the job. Never once has he disappointed me."
That's not exactly breaking news. Saban's relationship with Emmert is well-chronicled.
However, with Alabama now the subject of two rather important extra benefits cases—one of which includes a player, Fluker, who could be ruled ineligible during the 2012 national title season—there's really nowhere for the program to hide if Saban's relationship with Emmert remains at the forefront of the public eye.
Schrotenboer points out that, by rule, NCAA officials with connections to schools or individuals under investigation are recused from the process to prevent bias.
At least, in theory.
However, the high-profile nature of Alabama, the recent success on the game's biggest stages and the focus on the NCAA's rather subjective enforcement of its rules makes this a perfect storm for the NCAA to play things above board and earn back some trust from the public.
That could come at the expense of Alabama.
Cooperation is always key for the NCAA, and Alabama certainly appears—as evidenced by the Clinton-Dix suspension—to be taking a proactive stance.
That will help.
However, if they dig deeper, will Alabama's cooperation or public perception matter more to the NCAA?
Schrotenboer's story on the relationship between Saban and Emmert only brings the relationship back to the forefront, which will put more pressure on the NCAA to take steps to prevent any perception of bias during a critical time of its existence.
Sure, the relationship between Saban and Emmert could protect Alabama—and probably would have in year's past.
But it's a different time now.
The NCAA is searching to maintain relevancy in a time in which its relevancy is eroding. One way to do so would to ensure that all investigations are based solely on facts, wherever they lead. Especially a potential investigation involving the reigning champs.