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Posted: Monday June 15, 2009 2:46PM; Updated: Tuesday June 16, 2009 3:03PM
Andy Staples Andy Staples >

'Bama backlash, a new-look Pac-12, Florida's rap sheet and more

Story Highlights

The NCAA isn't out to get Alabama; the penalties seem harsh but mean little

Forget Utah, Boise or BYU ... the Pac-10 should expand and add this cash cow

More on Florida's ever-growing rap sheet and Stewart Mandel's Mailbag Crush

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The NCAA did not hit Nick Saban's Alabama team with scholarship reductions or a bowl or television ban.
The NCAA did not hit Nick Saban's Alabama team with scholarship reductions or a bowl or television ban.
Bob Rosato/SI
Andy Staples's Mailbag
Have questions or feedback? E-mail Andy Staples.

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.

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