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Will Alabama case force NCAA to investigate? Or surrender?

Dan Wetzel
Yahoo Sports

Back in the old days – say 2011 – the University of Alabama might be nervous after another report of a star player receiving an extra benefit in violation of NCAA rules.

On Thursday, it was word from TideSports.com that assistant strength and conditioning coach Corey Harris was placed on administrative leave for providing a loan over the summer to star safety Ha Ha Clinton-Dix. The report also says Harris was found by the Alabama compliance department to have ties to a sports agent.

It was just Wednesday that Clinton-Dix was suspended indefinitely for an undisclosed violation of team rules.

These aren't outside allegations. These are the conclusions of the school itself.

This comes on the heels of last month's Yahoo! Sports detailed story about how former player Luther Davis had ties to sports agents and financial planners and provided a series of "impermissible benefits" to star lineman D.J. Fluker, now of the San Diego Chargers, among other SEC players. The school is looking into that one.

That's smoke from two sports agent stories on top of each other, one coming from a currently employed staff member.

Predicting the actions of the ever-unpredictable NCAA is always fraught with danger. But back when the NCAA had a full, aggressive enforcement staff, when it still liked flexing its muscles, when it wasn't under such assault from lawyers and the public alike – you know a couple years ago – it stands to reason it would've sent a team to Tuscaloosa, Ala., to take a look at the Crimson Tide.

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Alabama safety Ha Ha Clinton-Dix has been suspended indefinitely by the school. (AP)

There was a period when the NCAA seemed to revel in drilling any program for any player who took anything from anyone, especially an agent. Entire basketball seasons have been vacated for as much, and that's when the NCAA ruled no one at the school knew anything. This time, the alleged potential runners are a recent player (by definition, also a booster) and an employee of the program.

Yet, now? Well, who knows if the NCAA does a dang thing?

Yahoo's opposition to amateurism, the NCAA rulebook and the association's history of selective enforcement is long-standing and repeatedly stated.

You don't have to believe in any of that to not sit back with some popcorn and wonder what will happen next on this one.

The NCAA does care about the rules. It gets them out of workman comp cases and taxes and all sorts of other things. It's why the NCAA cracks the whip. There's big money in enforcement.

Yet, this could be the watershed moment when the NCAA just stops even pretending to try. It could be the case where the NCAA just throws up its hands and admits it no longer had the resources or the resolve to enforce some of the rules it once considered sacred.

There are endless examples of the NCAA supposedly looking the other way on a cash-cow program through the years, but of late there's also plenty of proof that was no longer true.

Southern California, Ohio State and Penn State football are all massive presences in college sports. They all got hit hard after aggressive investigations and bold decisions for various scandals. Meanwhile, Memphis basketball saw a national runner-up basketball season get wiped out for playing an ineligible player the NCAA itself twice ruled eligible.

There was talk of "strict liability" from then infractions chair Paul Dee, the late athletic director from Miami. There were lectures that high-profile players demand high-profile monitoring. Penn State didn't even get a run through the enforcement process, it just bulldozed into a settlement.

There was little wiggle room allowed. The NCAA meant business.

The Alabama deal isn't outrageous. Plane tickets. Cash. Gifts. Small loans. Whatever. It's the same stuff as ever: predictable and virtually impossible to prevent from occurring.

By NCAA thinking, however, those alleged benefits could be significant because it's not always the monetary value that matters. It's who provided it and why.

Clinton-Dix's benefit was fairly minimal, and his suspension will likely be four games, at most. But how do you excuse the behavior of an athletic department employee who most certainly knew the rules?

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Former Alabama offensive linesman D.J. Fluker received benefits from another former player. (AP)

This isn't some out-of-town booster or shadowy agent. He's part of the program. If you can't be cited for failing to control the people internally, then what's the point?

That's part of what doomed Ohio State – it wasn't the memorabilia-for-tattoo swap that was the big deal, it was head coach Jim Tressel knowing about it, lying about it, covering it up and playing the guys anyway.

Then again, the NCAA said no one at Memphis knew Derrick Rose might have fixed his SAT, but it pulled that Final Four banner down anyway.

So, yes, in the old days of a couple years back, this would have meant a full-on investigation and, if the allegations were proven, the prospect of little leniency. Maybe not vacating victories and titles, but, well, something.

It's why there are plenty of bitter fans from past-sanctioned programs demanding that mighty Alabama gets the same treatment their favorite team did. Even if those same fans generally howled about how unfair their own program was treated in the first place.

This in undeniably a new day, though, new winds of change circling college sports like a tornado. The entire operation has been undone by overextension in the Nevin Shapiro and Jerry Sandusky cases.

Does the NCAA have a spine anymore?

So maybe the Tide won't get put under the same intense microscope.

Maybe the NCAA just can't even investigate this stuff anymore.

Maybe the old days are over. And if they are, well, good riddance. It's about time we got on with some new ones, because it's tough to be outraged about a repaid loan of less than $500 to a key player in a hugely profitable football program.

Time will tell. That's what's interesting about this case, not the allegations against Alabama. They could come up at any school. They are partially a result of a rulebook that makes no sense. They stem from a concept of amateurism that was always bankrupt.

That's always been the case, though. The NCAA never used to care.

Alabama may be the test to see if it still does.

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