October 14, 2009
Once again we're gobsmacked by the routine passage of time: Ten years have passed like that, and to commemorate the artificially grouped events therein, the Doc Sat team is counting down the best of 2000-09. Today's category: Best scandal.
Matt Hinton: Colorado recruiting goes all the way.
Of all the sordid tales in the history of college football, almost none have made international news in countries whose citizens couldn't identify a "Ralphie" or "Rashaan Salaam" if their socialized medicine depended on it. But almost none have reached the scale of the accusations against Colorado in 2003, when -- after four players had scholarships revoked for providing alcohol to underage recruits and a Denver company said some of its strippers had been hired for recruiting parties -- seven different women eventually came forward with rape accusations against Buff players, the earliest case dating back to 1997. In addition to the usual sports headlines, the charges landed Colorado in tabloids home and abroad and finally in front of Congress as the face of privileged jocks run amuck.
Even the most serious suite of accusations in recent memory didn't land anyone in prison, though, or put the program on probation. The university adopted stricter rules for recruiting visits, and no sexual assault charges came to fruition -- prosecutors are still mulling them, in fact -- to the vindication of more conservative observers and Gary Barnett apologists. Barnett himself, while never held directly responsible for his players' alleged debauchery, probably took it on the chin the worst. He was cited for "lax oversight"; investigated by the university for "attempt[ing] to influence the sworn testimony of subordinates," "financial improprieties" and tipping off players "well in advance" of random drug tests; suspended for explaining that he cut a female kicker (later one of the accusers of sexual assault) from the team because she was "terrible"; finally fired on the heels of an ugly three-game losing streak in 2005; and effectively blackballed from working at any major program. Colorado hasn't had a winning season since under Dan Hawkins.
Doug Gillet: The courtship of Albert Means.
Like last week, I'm going with an answer that's had long-reaching implications for one of the nation's top programs. In 1999, Means' high school coach, Lynn Lang, all but auctioned Means off to the highest bidder. Alabama was the one that bit, with mega-booster Logan Young allegedly paying Lang a total of $150,000 to steer Means to Tuscaloosa. It was that kind of sprawling kudzu patch of a scandal that included dozens of schools, FBI investigations, allegations that Phil Fulmer tried to submarine Alabama by feeding evidence to the NCAA and lawsuits that have spanned the ensuing decade; when the smoke cleared, 'Bama coach Mike Dubose was out of a job, three people were in jail and the Tide incurred a two-year bowl ban and the loss of 21 scholarships. As far as anyone can ascertain, the Tide avoided the death penalty only by the skin of their teeth, and the scholarship reductions so kneecapped the program that the team went 43-32 over the ensuing six seasons and had more new-coach searches than bowl wins.
Think of the ripple effect here: The NCAA penalties spawned the mini-scandal of Dennis Franchione's departure to Texas A&M once he realized how hard things were going to be; Franchione was replaced by Mike Price, who gave us the wonderful "It's rollin', baby!" stripper scandal before he'd coached a single game for the Tide. Only the great and powerful Nick Saban has achieved consistent success in returning the Tide to their former glory, but the Means debacle continues to cause him problems, as well -- anything even remotely scandalous that happens in Tuscaloosa now, no matter how picayune, gets national attention, fires up the rumor mills and brings the dreaded "repeat offender" status from the NCAA.
Holly Anderson: Arkansas 2007, aka "Las Cronicas de Boss Hawg."
This story requires no embellishments; a mere listing of events will suffice. And to understand Arkansas 2007, you'll need to go back to Arkansas 2006, when star-studded local prep hero Mitch Mustain was accompanied to Fayetteville by a handful of teammates from Springdale High and their innovative coach, Gus Malzahn, who landed a plum role as Houston Nutt's new offensive coordinator.
But Malzahn's spread offense (and Mustain's role in same) were promptly deveined and boiled like so many cocktail shrimp, setting the stage for the most consistently bonkers offseason in sporting memory, featuring (in no particular order): A confrontation between Nutt and angry Springdale parents who didn't think the SEC West champs passed often enough for their boys' talents; Malzahn's exit to join the staff at Tulsa; Mustain and another Springdale product, Damien Williams, bolting for Southern California; the dissemination of an insulting email diatribe directed at Mustain from a booster and Nutt family friend, which Nutt's wife reportedly found hilarious and forwarded within Arky circles; the acquisition of Nutt's cell phone records through a FOIA request, subsequently used to bolster rumors he was having an affair with a local newscaster with whom he'd exchanged more than 1,000 text messages on a university/taxpayer-provided phone, including some late nights, early mornings and minutes before his team took the field in the Capital One Bowl; and some enterprising Arkansas fans compiling the entire sordid saga interspersed with Nutt's chronology of public behavior and posting it all online. And that's before the lawyers got involved.
(Oh, and Nutt's no longer employed there. You may have heard.)
Chris Brown: Jetgate.
In 2002, Bobby Petrino took over as Auburn offensive coordinator under head coach Tommy Tuberville, the Tigers offense jumped up its production, and the team improved from 7-5 to 9-4, sparking some national championship buzz heading into 2003. After the disappointing '03 season, however, much had changed: Petrino left to become the head coach of Louisville, where he led the Cardinals to a 9-4 season. Tuberville, by contrast, was under much heat, as the Tigers went 8-5 and the natives were restless. Unsurprisingly, rumors swirled that Auburn wanted to replace Tuberville, and various replacements, Petrino among them, were floated. But rumors are rumors; the rabid nature of college football fans can lead to some wild speculation.
In undoubtedly his greatest (or at least highest profile) moment as a reporter, Pat Forde had one of those movie-cliché hunches. Forde, currently an ESPN senior writer but then a columnist for the Louisville Courier-Journal, heard a rumor that Auburn bigwigs were meeting with Petrino in secret. This one was unique for its specificity: They would be meeting at a small, private airport in Sellersburg, Ind. As few people even knew of that tiny airport in southern Indiana, Forde began to make calls. Forde figured out that the plane carrying the Auburn-ites belonged to booster Bobby Lowder (known for a time as "the most powerful booster in America"), and even got Lowder's tail number. Fellow C-J writer Eric Crawford managed to determine that Lowder's plane had sat at that tiny airport for a couple of hours. Forde and Crawford then drove over to Louisville's football complex. Waving airport records, they requested a meeting with Petrino. After a half-hour of deliberation with the school's sports information director, they were told Petrino wanted to focus on an upcoming game. Forde and Crawford left, with only circumstantial evidence of the plane records. The reporters tracked down the pilot of the plane via a receipt for purchase of fuel, and he promptly hung up on them.
And then -- spooked, guilty, or something else -- Auburn fessed up. The school issued a release stating that the school's president and athletic director, among others, had flown on Lowder's plane, and had indeed met with Petrino, who, when confronted with confirmation, was very contrite. The fallout was severe: The Alabama governor asked Auburn to apologize, and both the athletic director and president eventually resigned. Tuberville? Well, in 2004 he went 13-0 and, in retrospect, probably deserved a share of that year's mythical BCS title. Petrino chalked up the indiscretion to "inexperience," though he later became much better at this kind of thing by leaving Louisville suddenly for the Atlanta Falcons, before leaving that job with three games remaining in the regular season to take Houston Nutt's vacated seat at Arkansas. And what of famed booster Bobby Lowder? In 2009 his bank, Colonial Bank, failed, was taken over by the FDIC, and was sold to BB&T bank. There are no heroes in this story, only good reporting.
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• Previously on "Best of the Aughts": Best Upset.
• Have an offbeat category you'd like to see tackled in "Best of the Aughts?" Drop me a line: sundaymorningqb -at- yahoo, etc.