Thursday, September 12, 2013

D.J. Fluker and the Three Ds

I have to preface this by saying we are dealing with a "new" NCAA and should view this situation accordingly. Alabama will face Johnny Manziel shortly. That's the bar brawling rich kid who reportedly signed a lot of autographs for a lot of money. Alabama had to face Cam Newton, whose services reportedly came at the cost of a six figure sum. Those games count, and those instances, along with recent NCAA activity has taught us one very important thing. We can't judge based on common sense, we can't judge based on reporting, or allegations, we can only judge based on "admissible evidence". 

Based on what has been proven thus far (which is nothing really, and I won't bother to link to allegations) and for thflukere sake of argument I will acknowledge one allegation, which is that Fluker took money from Luther Davis. As far as Luther Davis goes, he's largely irrelevant by himself. He's been banned from Alabama's campus, his alleged activities took place as a former player, but it is worth noting that as a former player he had a prior relationship and friendship with many current Alabama players. Now, on to the other issues.

Stipends: I won't go into depth about this issue, but there are students on scholarship at Alabama that get a $10,000 stipend. Athletes while allowed in the past, currently are not allowed to have stipends. Fluker is the rare example of kids that fall through the cracks, and a stipend would go a long way towards insuring they are not enticed by boosters or agents.

NCAA: The NCAA once had a vendetta against the University of Alabama. They violated their own rules, and gave Alabama draconian punishments. It's not clear if they still do, but their handling of the textbook situation shows that they are still more than willing to punish those who cooperate. On the other hand, Auburn and Texas A&M (amongst others) have demonstrated that lawyers and denying everything is a way to get off. Along with this, the NCAA actually has a lot of other things that they should concern themselves with. That would include the Miami cesspool, and some recent and very serious allegations against Oklahoma St. Need I even mention that Ole Miss was found to have played an ineligible player, and the only thing that happened was he got suspended a few games? The question here is does Alabama get the new kinder, more gentle NCAA, or do they get the one that would do anything to harm Alabama?

SEC: The SEC under Kramer was not looking out for Alabama's interests, to say the least. The Means case, amongst others demonstrated the SEC as a conference, and as member schools were more than willing to sell out Alabama. The SEC landscaped has changed a lot since then, and the allegations involving Luther Davis include a couple other SEC schools. Mike Slive went to bat for Auburn, and the SEC owes Alabama a lot. How they handle the situation might be the best measure of how this will go. If the SEC acts like it did prior to Slive's arrival, as well as the NCAA, then Miss. State and Tennessee will get some sort of sweetheart witness deals, and Alabama will get hammered. However, recently the SEC has acted more as lawyers for the schools than rule enforcers.

Alabama: Alabama, and Alabama fans both share a terror of the NCAA. The NCAA did scare Alabama a great deal, and since then Alabama has arguably had the best compliance department of any university. The problem with this, as the textbook issue demonstrated, is that cooperation does not lead to getting off light. Logically, if a program comes forward, provides the information they have, and cooperates fully, the punishment should be significantly less. That's not how it works though, Auburn got less punishment over Cam Newton (and players before and after that incident going on the record as taking money) than Alabama did over textbooks. The playbook is clear here.

Deny: This is something you have to do carefully, and completely. But, Auburn and A&M both did this effectively. You find what you are willing to concede, what you can admit, and then beyond that you refuse to budge an inch. In the case of Auburn, it was the open admission that Cam Newton's dad did shop him, but they adamantly refused to admit that he was actually paid. In the A&M case, they openly admitted he signed a lot of autographs, but refused to acknowledge he took any money. In this case, if there is any admission it should be that Fluker took money, but it was a loan from a friend, a former teammate, no more no less. If Alabama, Fluker, and anyone else holds this line, it should be very hard to punish Alabama.

Deflect: Fluker is a great guy from all accounts. He was also homeless after Katrina, he worked odd jobs, etc... This is not a laptop thief that got kicked out of school, this is a guy from a tough situation. Alabama, and Alabama fans can make this narrative about what a great guy Fluker is, and the hard times he's been through. The NCAA already looks bad, if they let Cam and Johnny off, but go after the formerly homeless kid, they'll look even worse. So, they can talk about what Fluker has been through, they can talk about stipends, they can talk about Cam, or Johnny, they can talk about how barbaric the NCAA was with Alabama in the past. Heck, talk about how the agents would have been in violation of the law. They just shouldn't talk about any players at Alabama getting impermissible benefits!

Defy: This is the final resort. This is if it becomes clear the NCAA is going to come after Alabama, hard. Alabama could stonewall, lawyer up (even more than already), threaten legal action, what ever it takes to rattle the NCAA. The NCAA has vulnerabilities and Alabama is strong. If backed into a corner they should act with strength. The last thing to do though? If the NCAA tries to take away wins or championships, just keep claiming them! We saw the games, we know the outcomes. Alabama has 15 championships, period.

D.J. Fluker is a mostly sympathetic figure, but there's the possibility that he knowingly took money from a runner for an agent, and did so for something in return. But, that's extremely far from  being proven at this point, especially by the new standards the NCAA has. As fans, we want the players to obey the rules, the NCAA and Alabama want the same thing. But, in Fluker's case they can't suspend him for a few hours like they did with Cam, or half a game like they did with Johnny. They might want to punish him, and to some extent even Alabama fans might want him punished, because they don't want things like this to happen, ever. However, if anything happened it is in the past. It can't be undone, and by all appearances Fluker was one of those kids that fell through the cracks, one that did come from a family in need. The NCAA needs to temper their inherent desire to make an example of Alabama, with the reality that Fluker is a sympathetic figure.

Fluker deserves the benefit of a doubt. If Johnny got it, and Cam got it, then Fluker absolutely deserves it. For those of you unfamiliar with his story, here it is. For all we know, if Fluker did get money, it could have just been seen as a loan from a friend. Remember, Luther Davis had a deal with the Bills. Fluker had no reason to be surprised he had money, and consider a prior relationship, it's hardly unusual to consider Fluker borrowing money from him. How do we know Fluker knew it was a violation, and how do we really know it was a violation? Is it really against NCAA rules to borrow money from your friends? Fluker's tough background aside, it's still not an easy case to make that borrowing money from a friend and/or former teammate is a violation. If that's a violation, then every college football program is always in violation.

The key here though is that a narrative will be set. Alabama and Alabama fans have a degree of control over it. It can be about players getting impermissible benefits, or it can be about the story of how a kid that was once homeless became a first round draft pick. The truth is, may be we all should be talking about the upcoming Texas A&M game anyway, but if we're talking about Fluker, we might as well be talking about the positive aspects.