I had a feeling no matter what I wrote about the NCAA's penalty against Alabama for Textbookgate, a ton of mail would follow. Crimson Tide fans didn't disappoint. As we try to slog through the longest months of the year for college football fans, let's tackle their concerns, your reactions to my suggestions for conference realignment and the lengthy rap sheet of Urban Meyer's Florida Gators.
Aside from your mail, we also need to address one other important topic. Colleague Stewart Mandel will return from sabbatical later this month, and he is considering -- gasp -- retiring the Mailbag Crush. We can't allow that to happen, but to prevent it I'm going to need your help. So start thinking of potential crushees, and we'll have a frank and honest discussion at the end of this column.
Now, on to the mail...
I hope you aren't equating the Alabama problem with the others you mentioned in your piece. Unless you are an Alabama hater, the sanctions mentioned in this situation are certainly overkill. Give me a break! Seven guys try to help out fellow students to get some TEXTBOOKS and that merits losing 21 games off their record? Unless there's more to this than that, I'm thinking we might be picking on this program for something that should be encouraged. It's not cheap going to college these days and I'm just not getting the point here. I notice it has taken how long to resolve the [Reggie] Bush problem. Do I detect some USC bias or is it just pick on Alabama for any ridiculous thing you can come up with? Enlighten me if you can.-- Mike, Hudson, Fla.
Mike's e-mail represents a heavy percentage of the mail I received from 'Bama fans. I picked his to answer because he lives in west Pasco County, where I got my start covering high school sports for The Tampa Tribune.
God bless Alabama fans. They are passionate and loyal and they get to dine on some of the best ribs in America on a regular basis. But they tend to jump to conclusions. They see Alabama and NCAA in the same sentence of a column and assume the writer's ripping their team. Some of that paranoia is justified -- the program has plenty of haters out there -- just not in this case.
I made it pretty clear in the first sentence of the second paragraph I didn't think the textbook issue merited a serious penalty, but considering 'Bama's recent history, it's no surprise some thought the NCAA should come down harder. My point was the NCAA probably will never again drop the hammer on a program as financially critical as Alabama or -- wait for it, Mike -- USC. Florida State, another key program, recently received a minor scholarship reduction and had to vacate wins for a case of widespread academic fraud. That's far more serious than athletes getting textbooks for friends, but the penalty wasn't much worse. The only reason Florida State challenged any part of that penalty is because the wins in question belong to Bobby Bowden.
The way all of this is going, it seems highly unlikely the NCAA will severely punish USC even if all the accusations against Reggie Bush prove true. I'm guessing a poo-poo platter of scholarship reductions and vacated wins. If the NCAA finds evidence Bush was ineligible during the 2004 season, USC could be forced to vacate that season's BCS title. But guess what? No one will have to give back their rings, and the Trojans still thumped Oklahoma in the Orange Bowl.
Bowl and television bans are the only truly meaningful penalties remaining. The NCAA hit 'Bama with a bowl ban after the Albert Means scandal, but it's difficult to believe the NCAA would have done that had that case happened in 2008 instead of 2000. The financial stakes are too high now. So unless the NCAA uncovers video of a USC coach saying, "Hey, can you give Reggie some money?" to an agent, don't count on anything too serious. Besides, the Trojans already have made their sacrificial offering in the form of former basketball coach Tim Floyd.
Let me tell you why your "Ultimate Playoff Buster Scenario" won't work: It makes too much sense. How dare you make such a well-thought, measured, logical and wise suggestion public? How dare you! Why ... why, I ought to send this to every conference commissioner, school president and member of Congress. Too bad your excellent idea won't get any further than a submarine with screen doors and windows.-- Marty, Coral Springs, Fla.
Marty, thanks for the kind words, but some of your fellow readers disagreed -- especially the ones in Utah. I suggested the Pac-10 add Utah and Boise State, which would obviously stiff BYU. I only did this because Boise State seems like more of a TV draw, but, in my new role as Pac-12 Commissioner, I am open to arguments in favor of the Cougars.
Unfortunately, I only have one open spot instead of two. After much careful consideration, I've decided to grant one of the Pac-10 expansion slots to a school with a nationwide reach and a state-of-the-art facility. I refer, of course, to the University of Phoenix.
The idea hit me last night as I covered the NBA Finals game between the Lakers and Magic in Orlando. I noticed a fan on the concourse wearing an "I am a Phoenix" T-shirt. Assuming the man is an Orlando resident, that demonstrates impressive recruiting reach. A little research showed Phoenix is the nation's largest private university, so an ever-expanding alumni base should provide plenty of booster bucks. Also, the student body is 63 percent female, so the average football recruit should like his odds.
The school is paying the Arizona Cardinals $154.5 million over 20 years for the naming rights to University of Phoenix Stadium in Glendale, Ariz. For that kind of coin, the Phoenix Phoenixes should be allowed to play seven home games at the facility.
Obviously, there are some hurdles. UPhoenix's for-profit status doesn't exactly jibe with the average NCAA member institution's mission. Also, offering every class online basically serves as an invitation to commit academic fraud in big-time college athletics. And since the school's students are scattered throughout the country, getting together to practice could prove tricky.
Still, as commissioner, I believe in spite of these challenges the University of Phoenix can make the Pac-12 richer. Er, I mean, stronger.
[Twenty-four] arrests and counting for your alma mater under [Urban] Meyer, five this year already. Tennessee fires their strength and conditioning coach and it's front page news (on both your site, ESPN's and others), but when a Florida player is arrested for assault it doesn't even get posted on your college football section. Maybe the media thinks the S&C coach's firing has more to do with football than an off-the-field incident. That's fine, but can you tell me the last time a news outlet ever reported on the hiring or firing of an S&C coach? Can most college football fans even name more than their own S&C coach (if they can even do that)? Somehow though, that was deemed so news worthy that it made the front page. Maybe winning solves all problems. I just hope you let the victim of the next angry Florida player know that.-- Michael, Philadelphia
Michael obviously didn't notice the arrest of Florida cornerback Janoris Jenkinsmade our college football section and the front page of the entire site. He also apparently didn't read this column from last August in which I took Meyer to task for allowing offensive lineman Ronnie Wilson -- he of AK-47 fame -- back on the team as a walk-on. I ended up being right. Wilson got thrown off the team again after a sworn complaint charged him with striking two people at a party. One, a woman, broke her wrist.
I find it funny people only started counting Florida's arrests after Jenkins got Tasered. This became a serious problem two years ago when nine players had scrapes with the law between the Gators' BCS title win against Ohio State and safety Tony Joiner's October arrest for trying to break his girlfriend's car out of a towing company lot (the charge was rammed through the usually slow Alachua County criminal justice system and dropped just in time for Joiner to play that week against LSU).
It's telling that the most serious crimes have been committed by repeat offenders. There's Wilson, of course. There's also cornerback Jacques Rickerson, who was thrown off the team last season. Had the team jettisoned Rickerson after his first charge (marijuana possession in February 2007) he wouldn't have been a Gator when he was arrested in November and accused of hitting and choking his girlfriend.
And let's not forget safety Jamar Hornsby, who remained on the team after he was charged with criminal mischief in April 2007 for allegedly slamming a man into the hood of a car. Later that year, Hornsby swiped the credit card of teammate Joe Haden's recently deceased girlfriend and ran up charges until his arrest in May 2008. Meyer kicked Hornsby off the team. Ole Miss signed Hornsby this year out of junior college, and Hornsby promptly got himself charged with beating a man with brass knuckles in the drive-through at a Mississippi McDonald's. Hornsby is awaiting trial, but Rebels coach Houston Nutt is holding out hope he can get Hornsby on the field.
Knowing Meyer's history, I understand his reluctance to boot troubled players off the team. At Utah, Meyer gave tailback Marty Johnson a chance after multiple drunk driving arrests, and he may have saved Johnson's life. At Florida, Meyer kicked troubled cornerback Avery Atkins off the team, and Atkins wound up dead of a drug overdose the following year. There's no way to know if Meyer could have helped Atkins, but he may feel he could have prevented the young man's death.
At some point, though, the program has to come first. As a Florida beat writer in 2007, I wrote Meyer missed a golden opportunity to scare his players straight when he allowed Joiner to play against LSU. Now, Florida has so much talent Meyer could throw any starter except quarterback Tim Tebow or linebacker Brandon Spikes off the team and still be favored to win the national title. Unlike some programs, Florida doesn't need to keep thugs on the roster for competitive reasons.
That said, The Gainesville Sun dug up some interesting numbers last week. During the same four-year period, Georgia has seen 30 players arrested. Tennessee has seen 21, Florida State 12 and Miami two. Yes, two.
That might be the real under-reported story here. Turns out the Hurricanes are some of the NCAA's best citizens -- and that's probably because they know coach Randy Shannon will boot their butts if they misbehave.
OK, now it's time for the fun part. Our buddy Stew is coming back soon, mailbag in hand, but he's toying with the idea of dropping the Mailbag Crush. This can't happen. How else will we discover under-the-radar starlets who possess killer senses of humor and a love for college pigskin? In the past three years, the Crushes have been Jenna Fischer of The Office (back when she was under the radar), My Boys star Jordana Spiro and It's Always Sunny in Philadelphia star Kaitlin Olson.
So I want everyone who reads this column to nominate a candidate for the Crush. You can send it to me using the mail link or on Twitter, or you can send it directly to Mandel on Twitter. In case you're having trouble choosing a crush, I'll offer a few suggestions.
Summer Glau: The Terminatrix from the recently canceled Sarah Connor Chronicles grew up in San Antonio, so she must have some kind of college football rooting interest. Plus, after two seasons playing a robot, a few Crush interviews would allow her to show off her comedy chops. Plus, she needs the work.
Rutina Wesley: The actress, who plays Tara on HBO's vampirefest True Blood, consistently delivers the funniest performance on premium cable. "Blah, blah, snore" has become a go-to phrase in the Staples household. Wesley graduated from the University of Evansville and Juilliard, so it's unclear whether she has a rooting interest. But since her show is based in fictional Bon Temps, La., (get it, Good Times?) we're going to assume it's LSU.
Bar Rafaeli: She's from Israel, so she probably knows squat about college football. But she's already on SI's payroll, and in these lean economic times, everyone needs to pitch in a little extra.