Alabama 451 -- The Temperature at Which Books Burn

Jay WortherCorrespondent IJune 11, 2009

GAINESVILLE, FL - SEPTEMBER 30:  Alabama Crimson head coach Mike Shula shouts instruction against the Florida Gators September 30, 2006 at Ben Hill Griffin Stadium at Florida Field  in Gainsville, Florida.  (Photo by Marc Serota/Getty Images)

There have been plenty of sleepless nights in the state of Alabama recently.  No, the Birmingham Bolts of the XFL aren’t returning to Legion Field.  The anxiety here is related to the release of the long-awaited letter from the NCAA that reveals the fate of the Alabama football program concerning what is known simply as the “Textbook Scandal.”

For those who are unfamiliar with the situation, several University of Alabama athletes were able to manipulate the textbook distribution policy of the athletic department, effectively receiving more textbooks than they were entitled to have.  In turn, these extra books could be sold to other students or back to the bookstores, providing these athletes with an extra source of income.

While it is hard to imagine that the athletic department could be held responsible for the scheme perpetrated by its students, this was deemed by the NCAA as a case of “Failure to Monitor.”

Alabama is no stranger to dealing with the NCAA Infractions Committee.  The football program was nearing the end of another probation period when these new allegations came to light.  Their last punishment included the loss of several scholarships and the probation that overlapped the textbook case.

The recent investigation, however, was not limited to the football program.  In fact, only five football players have been implicated in a report that supposedly covers hundreds of student-athletes.  But since this occurred at the University of Alabama, the football program is the primary concern.

Early reports have indicated that the punishment for the football team will include vacating wins from the 2005-2007 seasons and three years of probation.  The most important part, however, is that no loss of scholarships is mentioned.

Why is the issue of scholarships so important?  Because scholarships are the currency of a college football program.  Although it may seem trivial to take two or three scholarships away in a year when 25 can be handed out, it is actually fairly damaging to a team that is trying to build depth.

The question now becomes – did Alabama receive a punishment befitting the crime?  Many say that this was only a slap on the wrist for the program, but a slap on the wrist at least stings a little bit.

It wouldn’t be hard to argue that Alabama didn’t have any victories of real significance during the period that wins could be vacated, other than a couple of beatings of rival Tennessee.  I think it’s safe to say that Alabama fans will remember what happened on the field no matter what the record books say.

With that in mind, did Alabama receive a fair punishment for their indiscretions?  It would be hard to support the theory that the football team received any type of competitive advantage from the situation, and they likely didn’t use the textbook scheme as a tool to entice new recruits to the program.  The product on the field was in no way affected by a few players receiving these “extra benefits,” so it would seem unfair to punish the rest of the team when the offenders had already served a suspension for their actions.

It didn’t take long from the time the punishment leaked out for Alabama detractors to start the claims of favoritism by the NCAA towards one of its more storied programs.  In reality, however, there was really no basis for harsher penalties due to the facts of the case.  This had nothing to do with respect for Nick Saban or the University, it had everything to do with determining the proper price to pay for an isolated incident.

Every fan base thinks the NCAA is out to get them while going easy on everyone else.  This scenario will play out again when USC and Memphis receive rulings in the near future, and Alabama fans will get their chance to be on the other side of the equation.

Although most Alabama fans are probably breathing a sigh of relief at hearing the news, there is still one question to answer – can Alabama stay out of trouble for three more years?