Tuesday, May 31, 2011

Around the web: What they’re saying about the Jim Tressel resignation

image Monday’s sudden resignation of former Ohio State coach Jim Tressel literally rocked the college football world. Here’s a sampling of the shock waves that rippled through the national media and sports blogs.

ESPN’s Ivan Maisel wonders, “Can something be inevitable and surprising at the same time?”

Indyposted.com’s Paul O’Connor explains that When you are the target of an investigative reporter who happens to be the most recent sports journalist to win a Pulitzer Prize and his nickname is ‘the pitbull,’ you are in trouble.

Gregg Doyel says getting rid of Tressel was just a good start, but that it won’t be enough to save them from the mighty hammer of the NCAA.

Paul Newberry of Associated Press thinks a “death penalty” for rogue coaches is a good idea.

Ralph Russo puts it in a business perspective—keeping Tressel would have been too costly.

ESPN’s Pat Forde notes that Tressel and Ohio State only told the truth when damage control was the only option left.

CBSSports.com’s Adam Jacobi asks if the Tressel tenure was ‘worth it?’

To add my own two cents to the kitty: This Sports Illustrated piece from George Dohrmann and David Epstein reveals that Jim Tressel has a long, sordid history of playing ignorant while his players routinely broke NCAA rules against improper benefits.  As long as he was winning and as long as everything stayed under the radar, no one said a word.

It’s hard to imagine that the NCAA Enforcement staff won’t amend the Notice of Allegations it delivered to the school in March to include allegations that the program is/was guilty of the dreaded “lack of institutional control,” which brings a whole new fabric of sanctions into play.

Such a high profile case against such a significant football program doesn’t leave the NCAA much wiggle room on deciding sanctions and if the USC case is any indication, the penalties will have effects that will continue being felt for the better part of a decade. Sanctions are designed to hurt and punish the offenders.

Tressel’s resignation or eventual dismissal was widely expected. Few coaches have survived the Bylaw 10 breach of ethical conduct. But Buckeye fans need to brace for an even harder blow, a blow that will take a decade or more to recover from.

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Friday, May 27, 2011

BingoGate: Desperate McGregor subpoenas Bob Riley

image Laughable.

Filing under seal early last month, attorneys for casino owner Milton McGregor requested the court issue a subpoena for former Alabama Governor Bob Riley and several other former and current state officers.

It’s a desperate measure and the Alabama Attorney General’s office is rightly seeking to have the subpoena quashed, claiming that any testimony Riley et al could provide would be irrelevant. And, if it is relevant, then it’s protected under the same Executive Privilege provided to sitting and former Presidents of the United States.

Having Riley and the other officers testify to the matters in the subpoena would not only be privileged under the separation of powers concept of American government, it could also compromise completed, ongoing and potential future investigations of criminal wrongdoing by exposing the tactics, techniques and procedures used to catch bad guys.

If you’re a crook, wouldn’t you just love to know exactly how law enforcement and the executive branch of government goes about catching you?  Of course you would.

The subpoenas should be quashed and Riley should proceed on his planned motorcycle tour of the country.

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The righteously indignant Pete Fiutak gets it wrong

Dear Mr. Fiutak:

Reinstatement decisions are NOT enforcement investigations.

image In a column posted yesterday, Fox Sports’ Pete Fiutak takes the NCAA to task for what he sees as a glaring inconsistency in upholding the sanctions that hammer Southern Cal for the Reggie Bush case. He makes the mistake of comparing the Bush enforcement improper benefits case to the reinstatement decisions made by a completely different arm of the NCAA.

I probably shouldn’t single out Fiutak because honestly, he’s not the only one who gets it wrong. The sentiments he express are found in columns on sports pages across the country. They’re on websites, blogs and internet message boards. Very few of’em get it.

While Mr. Fiutak will get no argument from me that the NCAA’s “every case is different” approach to both enforcement and reinstatement matters is a recipe for chaos and confusion, his column contributes absolutely nothing to resolving the national confusion over the difference between the results of investigations conducted by the league’s enforcement arm and decisions rendered by a reinstatement staff with no investigatory powers whatsoever.

People want to compare the USC case to the other two highest profile cases of blatant violation of amateurism rules—the Cam Newton case at Auburn and the Tressel, Pryor et al case at Ohio State. In doing so, they try to make the case that Southern Cal is being made to pay a heavy price while Auburn and Ohio State get away scot free.

Here’s the key difference: The Bush case—after a half-decade of media and NCAA background investigation, a notice of inquiry, the formal enforcement investigation, a notice of allegations, a Committee on Infractions hearing, a decision, an appeal and a decision on the appeal—was a thorough, full-fisted anal exam conducted by people with no connection to the Trojan program. Meanwhile, the reinstatement processes that resulted in the eligibility decisions at Auburn and Ohio State were the result of dog-and-pony shows written, produced and directed by the schools themselves.

Repeat after me: Reinstatement decisions are NOT enforcement investigations.  Lather, rinse and for God’s sake repeat this to every college sports fan you encounter.

The Infractions Committee relied on information produced by the NCAA enforcement staff and that information was the closest to the truth that anyone could ever hope for. The reinstatement decisions were based on information provided by the schools, and that information was prepared in a manner that puts the best light on the school that anyone could hope for. It’s a huge difference and it seems to be completely lost on people who should know better.

I am the first to admit that while I know more about NCAA rules and procedures than I ever wanted to, I still have a great deal to learn. It would be helpful if Pete Fiutak and all the other master blasters in the national sports media would slow down, understand the processes involved and at least try to grasp this key distinction between enforcement and reinstatement matters. By not doing so, they’re not helping the public get their own arms around the concepts.

I’ll bet there’s one thing on which Fiutak and I can agree. That would be a standardized set of penalties with mandatory minimum sentences for major violations. This idea was posited by MrSEC. Such a system would end the “every case is different” approach currently in place in both the enforcement and reinstatement offices of the NCAA. To be certain, some unintended victims will suffer under such a cut-and-dried system. But if everyone understands what the penalties are—that all drug dealers, murderers and rapists go to prison, no matter what—there will be fewer people weighing the risk reward ratio and making the wrong decision.

We need that and if this week’s news is any indication, we might soon get it.

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Thursday, May 26, 2011

USC case has ominous implications for programs under scrutiny

image Mark Emmert was named the NCAA President on April 27, 2010. Emmert almost immediately began talking up a revamp of the Enforcement process, and before he formally took office in October, he’d already begun shaking up staff and reorganizing the front office. Forty-four days atfer being named President, the league’s Committee on Infractions released a scathing, 67-page report, painstakingly detailing a four year pattern of rules violations at the University of Southern California. The violations, wrote the committee,  “struck at the heart of the NCAA's Principle of Amateurism.” 

USC appealed, holding out slim hopes that recent reinstatement decisions would at least provide an avenue for the Appeals Committee to set aside some of the sanctions levied by Infractions. Yesterday, that committee DENIED that appeal and let stand a series of extraordinarily punitive measures against the school’s Football, Men’ Basketball and Women’s Tennis programs.

Make no mistake about it—sanctions for major violations are designed to punish the institution and do so in a manner that the committee deems appropriate for the violations committed. Whether or not you agree that these penalties are consistent with the crimes, you can’t deny that they are harsh and that they will bring the Trojans to their knees for years to come.

The severity of these penalties and the league’s unwillingness to show any mercy on appeal should also serve notice to the host of college athletics programs currently under NCAA Enforcement scrutiny, especially those involved in high-profile cases with headline-making allegations of impropriety. Auburn, North Carolina, Ohio State and Tennessee are all under ongoing investigations, some of which allege the same types of amateurism violations as those demonstrated in the USC case.

Should any or all of these programs come before the Committee on Infractions, they can expect to defend themselves against allegations contained in a highly detailed Enforcement report, with every “i” dotted, every “t” crossed and every footnote documented. They can expect to receive harshly punitive sanctions that will severely hamper their competitive abilities on the field or court, and they can expect the Appeals committee to show no mercy whatsoever, absent a glaring error on the part of Enforcement staff or the Infractions Committee.

You might think it’s a stretch to correlate Emmert’s “get tough” approach to rules violators,  the severity of USC’s penalties and yesterday’s seemingly merciless denial on appeal. Don’t kid yourself. This is Mark Emmert’s NCAA and it’s Mark Emmert’s Enforcement philosophy.

If you get caught committing major rules violations and try to stonewall or deceive the league, you will become the conference whipping boy for the better part of a decade.  Watch USC’s performance on the field over the next several years, and behold your likely fate.

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Wednesday, May 25, 2011

Blog: NCAA Committee DENIES Southern Cal, affirms all penalties

Via Conquest Chronicles, a Southern Cal blog with a pretty good following.

Conquest Chronicles understands, based on multiple sources, that the NCAA has denied USC's appeal, much as Pat Haden and many others predicted they likely would. As we get more information on the ruling, we'll be keeping an eye out for reaction from with the football program, any impact on scholarships for 2011, and so on. The official stories should start to appear late today.

Nothing from any of the major news organizations yet but if CC is right, that’s only a matter of minutes.

UPDATE: Sure enough. Rivals/Yahoo! Sports is confirming, as is Bryan Fischer of CBS Sports. 

Trojan fans had pinned their hopes on the Cam Newton reinstatement decision last December, and their spirits rose even further with an equally mind-numbing reinstatement decision for Terrelle Pryor et al at Ohio State.

Alas for the Men of Troy, those weren’t decisions rendered at the end of full fledged NCAA enforcement investigations. The USC case took almost half a decade to resolve, from the first media reports of improper benefits through today’s news that their appeal had been denied.

Nearly a year ago, the NCAA Committee on Infractions released its report and included the following sanctions against the Men’s Basketball and Football programs:

  • Four years probation
  • Football hit with two-year ban on postseason play
  • Basketball hit with one-year ban on postseason play
  • Football hit with 30 scholarships over three years (10 per year) beginning in 2011
  • Football limited to 75 scholarship players on the roster for three years beginning in 2011
  • Fines and forfeitures totalling $211,200.
  • Vacation of wins, including regular and postseason wins.
  • Vacation of the 2005 Orange Bowl, where the Trojans trounced the Oklahoma Sooners for the 2004 BCS Championship.
  • Finding of "lack of institutional control."
  • Players currently enrolled and affected by the ban could transfer to any Division I school with no “sit out” penalty of one year.

In September, Reggie Bush surrendered his Heisman Trophy.

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Tuesday, May 24, 2011

In Defense of Samantha Steele

imageBefore anyone accuses me of chauvinism in even suggesting that Samantha Steele needs defending, let me point out that she absolutely needs no help at all. I’m only writing this post because it touches on the two subjects that have driven this blog since its inception just over a year ago—sports and the hypocrisy of the modern American left.

Samantha Steele is a sports reporter for Fox Sports. Joakim Noah was fined $50,000 by NBA Commissioner David Stern for uttering the word “faggot” at a fan during Sunday night’s conference finals game between the Chicago Bulls and Miami Heat. This follows a $100,000 fine imposed on Kobe Bryant of Los Angeles Lakers, who had used the same term when at an official.

Yesterday, Steele asked a simple question via Twitter:

“Can someone please clarify these Kobe/J Noah fines.. What is the rule? You can't say anything offensive? Offensive to whom?”

The reaction from a politically correct NBC Sports blog—which I will not link to—was as swift as it was predictable. The blogger mocked Steele, accused her of bigotry, twisted the context of her question and suggested that her upbringing and religious beliefs were to blame for her alleged intolerance. The blog post reeks of the hypocrisy normally seen on Daily Kooks diaries.

First of all, in none of her writings or Fox Sports broadcast segments has Steele ever cast herself as a political or social conservative. However, her bio indicates that in all likelihood, she’s pretty right of center in how she views the world. Secondly, she’s getting the same treatment other attractive, successful conservative women get.  Good looking female conservatives are a favorite target of a breathtakingly misogynistic left. They think absolutely nothing of attacking them by twisting their words, taking them out of context and accusing them of holding absurdly extreme points of view.

Ms. Steele, welcome to a world inhabited by Sarah Palin, Michele Bachmann and Dana Loesch. The left simply can’t get past the fact that these women are successful and conservative. They are viewed as a threat and rather than engage in honest discourse, the left—like the hypocrite blogger who slandered Steele—gets personal.

Steele’s question is a valid one and members of the media should be allowed to ask these types of questions without idiots from MSNBC trying to shout them down. Discussing the matter raised by her question means discussing the poisonous environment of political correctness the left is trying to maintain. Lefties want no part of that, because the racism, sexism and homophobia cards are the most valuable cards in their hand. Get rid of them, and they no longer have control over the dialogue. See how that works?

If no one lets the F-word or the N-word offend them anymore, then the left can’t accuse their targets of racism or homophobia.

Was Stern right to fine Bryant and Noah for their inability to control their anger? Probably so, but I think the severity of the fines are backwards. A referee expects a certain amount of verbal abuse. That’s why he makes the big bucks. Fans are customers and you just don’t treat customers that way.

The paragraph above is just one good answer to Steele’s question. There are sure to be others. But attacking her for asking the question is not.

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AUBurgeddon: “Show me the MONEY!”

image Via a story on the in-state media cartel’s website al.com, one of the four Auburn players arrested in March and charged with armed robbery and home invasion was being sued by a landlord and had already been evicted once from another rental property.

As the story shows, former teammates Mike Blanc and Mike McNeil were served with eviction papers from their landlord in April 2010. That landlord followed with a lawsuit for unpaid rent. The rental property they were living in is not bad. Liberty Properties has a nice facility with apartments in the $350 to $400 range. Apparently though, neither Mike made sure the rent was paid, and they got kicked to the curb by the landlord.

Mike & Mike promptly “upgraded.” Rather than moving into one of the 475,235 single- and double-wide trailers that dot the Auburn-Opelika metropolitan area, the two moved into a townhome complex called Copper Beech, a swanky, upscale property offering a two-bedroom, fully furnished bachelor pad for about $1,000/month for two persons (PDF).

Check out the picture above.  Wish I’d had digs like that when I was in college. I love the crimson table cloth, too.

NCAA rules permit a school to reimburse student-athletes living off of campus. With approval of the athletes’ head coach, players can find their own crib and are eligible to receive what’s known as a “cash-in-lieu” stipend that covers the cost of off-campus housing. They may not  receive any other benefits not available to the student body as a whole, such as televisions, stereos and video game consoles.

Mike & Mike likely got somewhere in the neighborhood of $520 each for rent and received reimbursement for other costs charged by the property, totaling some $300/person.

As the parent of a college freshman, I can personally attest to the lack of common sense young men and women of this age display when [ahem] managing their finances. But the athletic department is supposed to have people who help these kids develop life skills as they mature and develop into responsible adults.

Where’d the money go, coach?  And why did McNeil think his situation was so desperate that he needed to hit a lick?

Was he hoping to steal enough cash to pay the rent that should have been paid with the cash-in-lieu stipend?

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Monday, May 23, 2011

“Cost of Attendance” is a wedge that will split the world of College Football

image It’s the ultimate financial wedge. Both the Big Ten and now the SEC are speaking publicly harmoniously about amending NCAA rules to allow schools to cover not only the costs of an  scholarship (tuition, room, books and fees), but also provide a per diem allowance to cover everyday costs such as clothing, medicines, toothpaste and other necessities.

As Jon Solomon correctly points out, this is likely to become a recruiting issue, in more ways than one. As some states begin passing and enforcing legislation compelling schools to disclose the estimated cost of attendance, the schools with successful programs located in areas where the cost of living is bearable (Tuscaloosa, Auburn, Gainesville, Baton Rouge…) will have an instant advantage over schools located in areas with a much more painful cost of living (Los Angeles, Boston, Miami). Coaches will exploit that advantage.

But if the NCAA adopts legislation allowing schools to cover all costs—regardless of location or cost of living index—that advantage goes away, but it puts small schools in non-BCS conferences at an even greater disadvantage. To be certain, schools will be covering the cost of living for all athletes—not just those in the revenue generating sports. Depending on the individual schools’ financial situations, that could lead to massive doses of red ink and likely result in some schools dropping programs.

It will also lead to a large number of smaller schools opting not to participate in a cost of attendance construct. In fact, that is a near certainty, and so will the need to create a “super division,” made up of several dozen of the top FBS schools, divided into “super conferences.”

How might that look?  Well, Vanderbilt might decide that the SEC is no longer a viable venue for its football program, and drop out. Miami, another private school, might leave the ACC, along with Wake Forest or Maryland. It would start a trend of conference realignments of biblical proportions. When all the dust settles, you’d likely end up with six to eight conferences, with memberships averaging around the magic number of 12 schools.

The minor bowls would cater to the remaining conferences and schools, while the big bowls would host the new mega-conferences and big schools.

And those schools would produce the FBS National Champion (playoff, plus-one, etc). Who would have thought that cost of attendance might ultimately be the impetus for finally devising a system for determining the National Champs on the field?

Is it a dream? Perhaps. But cost of attendance is more than just a blip on the radar screen. It’s a great big financial wedge and it’s going to a fascinating game to watch.

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Must see: Collection of bad celebrity first pitches (with videos)

I’m not much of a baseball fan. I usually peek in on a few big matchups during the regular season and watch some of the playoffs. But this is SPORTS GOLD here.

The Dugout Doctors have put together an awesome collection of bad celebrity first pitches and everyone of them either had me laughing hysterically or shaking my head in disbelief.

Just a sample:

Go see all of them.

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Sunday, May 22, 2011

RIP Aaron Douglas. Albert Lin is a DICKHEAD

image A young life has apparently been cut tragically short, as internet news reports indicate that Alabama offensive lineman Aaron Douglas has died in the Jacksonville, Florida area.

Neither the Fernandina Beach Police Department nor the University of Alabama had made official statements as of 1:15 pm CDT, but the Tuscaloosa News’ Chase Goodbread wrote that statements from both were expected later today. The FB Police had earlier told Goodbread that they were investigating a death in their jurisdiction but that the investigation was not yet complete and that the next of kin of deceased had not yet been notified.

I had initially held off on this post, as the story had all the signs of an internet rumor gone horribly wild. That does not appear to be the case. I ask that you offer sincere prayers for Aaron, his family, his friends and teammates.  Aaron was known as a fun-loving, hard-working gregarious young man with a bright future.

No family should ever have to suffer such a loss.

Extra Point: I’m sure you’ve all seen or heard about the tasteless entry about Douglas’ passing that was posted on ESPN’s College Football Rumor Mill. I’m not reposting it or even showing a screenshot. I don’t blame ESPN for such a lack of class. I personally blame the author—Albert Lin—for thinking that the post would be cute and snarky. Dickhead.

UPDATE: Capstone Report has the official statement from the University of Alabama.

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RIP Aaron Douglas

The original post was lost in the Blogger meltdown last weekend. Here's the republished version as it originally appeared.

Baton Rouge ain’t Berkeley: Hundreds stop flag-burning protest at LSU

image This gentleman—and I use that term in the loosest possible definition—thought he’d stage a flag-burning protest right in the middle of the campus at Louisiana State University.

He quickly found out that the only similarity between Baton Rouge and Berkeley is that a major university runs through it.

Local news reports and accounts from witnesses said that a crowd of hundreds of counter protesters swarmed the site and when the leftwing nutjob arrived to do his dirty deed, they began pelting him with water balloons. As the crowd grew large and louder and more objects filled with liquids began to fly, police whisked the man to safety in a police cruiser. No flag was burned today.

Rumors that Les Miles was on the scene, preparing to offer the best water balloon thrower a football scholarship at Quarterback, turned out to be unfounded.

So, what prompted Ben Haas to come up with the great idea of announcing a flag-burning?  Well, it was the arrest of another leftwing goon, Isaac Eslava, for defacing the LSU war memorial and—wait for it—cutting down and burning the American flag flying over it.

That’s right, folks. A leftwing nutjob defaces a hallowed site on the hallowed ground of the LSU campus, burns a flag, steals a car and gets arrested. Outraged, another leftwing nutjob decides he’s gonna go one better. He announced to the world that he was gonna burn a flag in protest of the collaring of another flag-burning, America-hating wack job.

You can’t make this up.

But you can be sure of one thing—Baton Rouge ain’t Berkeley.

You GEAUX, Tigers.

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Friday, May 20, 2011

Can the college football offseason get any worse?

Perhaps the explosion of social media services on the internet have just made news—both bad and good—more accessible to more people. Or, maybe this is the absolute worst offseason in the history of college football. It sure feels like it.

Yesterday brought the tragic news from Oklahoma, where rising Senior LB Austin Box was found unresponsive, transported to an emergency medical facility and pronounced dead. News reports indicate a possible drug overdose. That tragic news came one week after an equally heartbreaking loss at Alabama. OL Aaron Douglas was found dead in Fernandina Beach, Florida after a night of partying with friends. Reports there indicated that an overdose may have been the case there as well.

These are horrible, tragic losses of life that bereave their families and break the hearts of teammates and friends. They are also the latest two instances of bad news in the world of college football.  Since the BCS Championship game on January 10, 2011:

  • Ohio State’s Jim Tressel admitted to withholding knowledge of several key players on his team receiving improper benefits from a local tattoo parlor owner.
  • News reports raised allegations that University of Oregon may have committed NCAA violations by paying possible street agents.
  • Almon Harvey Updyke—a crazed Alabama fan—admitted that he poisoned Auburn’s cherished oak trees at Toomer’s Corner.
  • An internal report revealed shocking details of excessive and illegal expenditures by the senior management of the Fiesta Bowl.
  • Four former Auburn football players confessed to receiving improper benefits—including thousands in cash—during their playing careers.
  • Four other Auburn football players were arrested after allegedly committing a home invasion in Lee County, armed with handguns and stealing several items.
  • Boise State University admitted to a series of NCAA infractions regarding improper benefits.
  • Florida dismissed a football player after his second arrest on marijuana possession in three months.
  • An Ole Miss player died during spring conditioning workouts due to complications related to sickle cell trait, prompting a wrongful death lawsuit by the player’s family.
  • A number of Iowa football players were rushed to the hospital, with potentially life-threatening cases of a kidney ailment related to muscle fatigue and dehydration.
  • An Ohio State player—LB Dorian Bell—was suspended for the entire 2011 season for an unspecified violation of team rules.
  • South Carolina suspended QB Stephen Garcia for team rules violation, with internet and media reports indicating alcohol abuse.

Allegations of rampant cheating. Allegations of alcohol and drug abuse. A coach accused of lying to investigators and withholding information from his own superiors. Crazed fans accused of defacing landmarks. Lawsuits. Three lives tragically cut short and as many as 13 others with life-threatening medical conditions related to workouts.

In the span of just four months, it looks like the universe of college football programs has spiraled out of control. The 12 incidents listed above are just the ones I can remember off the top of my head. I’m sure there are others that I’ve overlooked, but the common thread to them all is that there is no common thread. There’s no single root cause that you can point to as the heart of the problem that, if corrected, will somehow restore the once respected amateur sport that I’ve grown up loving and following so closely. It’s as if a bunch of football programs woke up on the morning of January 11 and said, “Yeah. Let’s all be like the University of Miami from 1983 through 1994.”

All we can do is hope and pray that the 2011 offseason is just an anomaly.  It’s a rash of bad actors, bad timing and plain bad luck. The first Saturday in September can’t get here soon enough for me. If the next four months are anything like the last four, it’s going to be a long and difficult summer.

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Thursday, May 19, 2011

Verne Lundquist sighs in relief, as Psalm FaaFoisia Pulemagafa Wooching commits to UCLA

No, really. That’s the dude’s real name. Psalm FaaFoisia Pulemagafa Wooching. See Bryan Fischer’s story at CBSSports.com.

I’m sure you all share my fond memories of Verne Lundquist trying to pronounce the relatively simple name, “Ben Jarvis Green-Ellis.”  God bless him, he really did try but he really did struggle mightily trying to wrap his jowls around it.

Should Wooching have chosen an SEC school (Houston Nutt always has room), could you imagine him trying to say, “and there goes Sum Bitching dude for the touchdown!”

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BingoGate: Judge allows the wiretap evidence to be heard at trial

image This should come as no great surprise. Last night, US District Judge Myron Thompson filed his decision accepting the recommendations of Magistrate Judge Wallace Capel that the defendants’ motion to suppress the nearly 13,000 recorded phone conversations be denied.

This is pretty much the decision I expected.

While the motions to suppress that and other related evidence represented the greatest moment of peril for the government’s case against Milton McGregor, his army of lobbyists and the legislators they are accused of bribing, the government did everything it could to bungle the matter.

Perhaps that’s why, in his ruling handed down last night, District Judge Thompson is expressly providing the defense with an avenue for appeal following any verdict:

The motions to suppress the wiretap recordings (Doc. Nos. 553, 556, 560, 564, 572, 573, 586, and 588), filed by defendants Milton E.McGregor, Thomas E. Coker, Robert B. Geddie, Jr., Larry P. Means, James E. Preuitt, Quinton T. Ross, Jr., Jarrell W. Walker, Jr., and Joseph R. Crosby, are denied without prejudice and with leave to renew, within seven days after the return of the jury’s verdict at trial, limited to a response to the government’s submission on the duration of minimization with respect to calls minimized (Doc. No. 1082). If the motions are not  renewed, the court will issue an opinion based on the current record. If the motions are renewed, the court will consider the matter anew and issue an order and opinion based on the current record and any additional evidence submitted by the parties in connection with the defendants’ response to the government’s submission on the duration of minimization with respect to calls minimized (Doc. No. 1082).

This pretty much wraps up the pre-trial business of the case. There are a few wranglings left to deal with regarding what the prosecution and defense would like to present at trial, but the heavy lifting has been done.

Jury selection is slated to begin June 6, less than three weeks from now.

Exit Question: The two weeks before the Lee Farkas trial saw several defendants plead guilty and turn against the flamboyant former mortgage banker. Do we see some flipping in the next few weeks here?  My guess is that it’s not likely, but we’ll see.

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Wednesday, May 18, 2011

Predictable: Jefferson County bans debris contractor

Watch the video below, as Channel 13’s John Paepke describes a very common scam used by some unscrupulous debris contractors to defraud taxpayers. Believe me—this is just one of many creative ways that some contractors have come up with to “shortload” their trucks and get paid for more material than they are actually transporting between the disaster area and the local landfill.

When Jefferson County decided to award an “emergency contract” to an out-of-state debris management firm, this blog raised the alarm. Since that decision, a number of municipalities within the county have elected to piggy-back onto Jefferson’s Contract with Ceres Environmental. The City of Birmingham initially awarded an emergency contractor to DRC, a company located in Mobile. However, some reports indicate that the city is reconsidering that contract in the wake of conflicting information on the cost sharing rules.

Ceres Environmental was one of three large debris management contractors hired to remove debris following the devastation of Hurricane Katrina in 2005. While none of the contractors hired to do the work in Louisiana, Mississippi and Alabama after that storm were perfect little angels, the company hired by Jefferson County was cited numerous times for, shall we say, very questionable activities during the recovery effort. The company also agreed to pay up to $1.5 million in back wages to workers it hired during their tour of duty in Bayou Country.

Granted, the company examined in Paepke’s story was a subcontractor of Ceres Environmental. But the prime contractor is responsible for the performance of all subcontractors, regardless of which “tier” they are in with their subcontract. For all we know, this company could have been a sub of a sub of Ceres.

That’s not likely, because the low-ball cost per cubic yard negotiated by Jefferson County and Ceres means that there’s very little room for profit below the first tier of Ceres’ subcontractors. That margin squeeze creates a much stronger incentive to cheat.  Hey, if you’re hauling 20 cubic yards of material and you can get paid for hauling 40, how many different ways could you come up with to game the system?

It is entirely possible that Ceres has learned the lessons of Katrina and won’t tolerate the kind of activities discussed in Paepke’s report last night. After all, the company mentioned in the story had its placards pulled and is no longer working in Jefferson County.

Paepke is expected to have another segment on tonight’s news, in which he covers the various tradeoffs associated with using a private contractor or the US Army Corps of Engineers for debris management after major disasters. It should be interesting, because as I mentioned in the post two weeks ago, I don’t think the local governments have any idea what kind of task they’re up against.

But you know what? If Jefferson County had a team of qualified debris management quality assurance personnel on the job, the truck would never have been loaded in the first place.

UPDATE: In response to emails and Twitter DM’s, here’s the deal with Jefferson County deciding to use a private contractor rather than following Tuscaloosa’s lead and letting the feds handle it.

FEMA has bookshelves of regulations promulgated under the Stafford Act. Many of those regulations describe how a non-federal entity is expected to monitor and verify that only debris eligible for federal assistance is removed from the disaster zone. Per my industry and professional contacts in the area, neither Jefferson County nor any the municipalities piggy-backing on JeffCo’s contract have trained Quality Assurance representatives monitoring the debris removal operations.

They’ve staged a few employees at the management and disposal areas, but they have no one monitoring the crews that are actually picking up and hauling the debris. A contractor goes out. He picks up some stuff. He travels to the landfill. He wants his load ticket.

NO ONE has verified that the contractor has stayed within the Jefferson County jurisdiction. That means the debris hauls being delivered to the management and disposal areas could have come from anywhere.  It could have come from the city of Birmingham. Or, maybe it came from Shelby County. St. Clair County.

FEMA will ask: “How do you know where it came from?”

And if the county or its municipalities can’t answer to the government’s satisfaction, they don’t get paid.

That is a recipe for a financial disaster after the natural disaster. This is a BIG DEAL, folks. Jefferson County already stands on the precipice of bankruptcy, and they are voluntarily cash-flow financing a multi-million dollar operation and hoping that they get reimbursed.

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Tuesday, May 17, 2011

Shocka: Fiesta and Insight Bowls both keep licenses, but get “probation.”

image Via the NCAA press release.

There’s no reading between the lines necessary. The new management team of the Fiesta and Insight Bowls—which are both run by the same Arizona not-for-profit corporation—put on a dog and pony show before the Bowl Licensing Subcommittee in New Orleans last month.

They appear to have successfully baffled them with bullshit. Suffice it to say that today’s news is nothing like the BOOM I thought it might have become.

But honestly, could the NCAA have done much different? It’s May 17. The regular season starts in just about four months. Yanking either bowls’ license would have created an absolute nightmare among the bowl-conference affiliations, forcing a realignment that would have trickled down to the Non-BCS conferences—and probably hurt them the worst, since the BCS “big money” schools would have simply moved one or two steps down the pecking order, bumping some small, Conference USA or Sun Belt Team out of the IBleedCrimsonRed.com Bowl, or something.

It would also have created a mess in the BCS selection, as it would reduce the number of slots by two, which again would have hurt the Non-BCS conference schools the most.

Could they have done more? Maybe. If we know what the terms of the probation were. Go read the press release. What are the penalties, here?  Fewer off-bowl site recruiting trips? Reduced number of strip club visits? A reduction in campaign contributions from 267,489 to 125,000 over two years? How about a price cap on CEO birthday parties at the shamefully low allowance of only $10,000?

It looks like the only punishment they’ll have to endure is a return visit to the next annual subcommittee meeting in April 2012. 


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SEC Football Coaches: Ranking the seat warmth

With about four of the longest months of the year between now and the magical first Saturday in September, let’s spend some off-season bandwidth discussing the temperatures of the seats the current crop of 12 SEC football coaches. Some are predictably safe, others are quite warm with the prospects of a core breach and complete meltdown.

Our Scale: 1—Ice Cold to 10—Nuclear.

This a completely subjective analysis, and it is not meant to illustrate how much danger one coach is in vis-a-vis one of the others. Mark Richt’s status at Georgia has no impact on either Muschamp or Dooley. Houston Nutt’s has no impact on Dan Mullen, and vice versa. It’s all about past performance, perceived ability to be competitive in the country’s toughest league and whether fans, alumni and administrations think the prospect for future competitiveness warrants action.

So, in alphabetical order:

image Alabama; Nick Saban. One of the three safest coaches in the conference. Saban has put Alabama back at the top of everyone’s national championship short lists and with good reason. Back-to-back-to-back recruiting classes have the Crimson Tide absolutely loaded from sideline to sideline, on both sides of the ball, two and sometimes three steps deep. He has won 35 games in three years, with two SEC West Titles, two undefeated regular seasons, an SEC Championship and the program’s league-leading 13th National Championship. His defensive philosophy is akin to unleashing 11 ferocious lions upon the hapless martyrs of opposing offenses and his pro-style offense is geared towards attracting and developing NFL-caliber players. Saban is going nowhere anytime soon. He’s a 1.

image Arkansas; Bobby Petrino.  The Razorbacks showed flashes of offensive brilliance in 2010 but lacked the killer instinct shown by West rivals. Part of that is youth and lack of depth. Petrino arrived to a team that Houston Nutt didn’t leave well stocked with top-drawer talent. By getting his own guys in place and coaching them up, Petrino is improving Arkansas’ threat to break through the SEC West logjam. As long as they continue to recruit well and improve, there will be more BCS Bowl appearances and a legitimate shot at some trophy case hardware. He’s a 2, only because the SEC West is brutal and making steady improvement is a hard row to hoe.

image Auburn; Gene Chizik. Another 2, because Auburn fans may grow restless down the stretch of a scary schedule. Graduation and early departures decapitated the team’s senior leadership structure and true freshmen have real shots at starting roles. That never bodes well in this league.  To his credit, Chizik has surrounded himself with a very good staff and has recruited top-drawer talent. But that talent is awfully young. I know it sounds crazy to rank the coach of the defending champions anything other that an Ice Cold 1, but the 2011 schedule really is brutal and to think there won’t be grumbling is to fail to understand the football culture in this state. The flies in the ointment for Chizik are the myriad of NCAA investigations into the program. If those result in allegations of major rules violations, things warm up, and warm up quickly.

image Florida; Will Muschamp. A scion of the Saban Line. He’s in his first year. He comes with a stellar resume. 1, easy. Former coach Urban Meyer left the team stocked with top-caliber talent. Muschamp is already showing great leadership in meting out swift, sure discipline, the only think that Meyer’s tenure seemed to fall short on. Muschamp should have the Gators right back in the thick of the SEC East race, and his team will make it tough for anyone other than the Gators to return to Atlanta in December in his very first year. Which may not bode well for…

imageGeorgia; Mark Richt. One of the most well regarded coaches in the league by sportswriters and his peers. But Georgia seems to be slipping out of the top tier of the league. In five years, Georgia is 23-16 in the SEC and 13-12 against the SEC East. 1-4 against Florida. Those are Jim Donnan-type numbers. Richt’s saving grace is that he’s the only coach in UGA history to have four straight 10-win seasons. He’s won two SEC Titles and been BCS bowling. One has to wonder that if the Bulldogs aren’t in Atlanta this December, UGA decides to make a change. Gotta be a 7, here.

image Kentucky; Joker Phillips. Another one of the league’s most highly regarded football coaches, Phillips is only in his second year as Head Coach of his alma mater. His commitment to academics, team discipline and athletics plays well, and his inaugural 2010 team made a bowl game. As long as the Wildcats don’t embarrass Kentucky fans and keep them busy in the run-up to basketball season, Phillips is probably in for a long tenure in Lexington. If he manages to get the ‘cats to the level of contending for the SEC East title, he’ll get a statue. 2, here.

image LSU; Les Miles. The only reason I give Miles a 3 is because Tiger fans are notoriously impatient. There are three reasons why they shouldn’t grumble at the Mad Hatter. He wins football games. His kids stay out of trouble and he absolutely owns the fertile recruiting grounds of Louisiana. What more could you ask for in a good football coach? National Title? Check. SEC Title? Check. Crazy endings to big games? Check. He’s always going to deliver good entertainment and good football.

image Mississippi State; Dan Mullen. The third of the three safest coaches in the league, rated at 1. Mullen is steadily building a good program in the middle of nowhere, Mississippi. The man appears to be an offensive genius and may well have been the reason for Urban Meyer’s uncanny run of victories that led to two crystal trophies. Mississippi State seems to have found their man. The only question is, if he keeps winning, can they afford to keep him?

image Ole Miss; Houston Nutt. The hottest seat in the league at 9 and rising. Ole Miss is a dumpster fire of a football program. You follow Ed “Yaw Yaw” Orgeron with the biggest snake oil salesman in the conference? The school is being sued by the family of a kid who died during conditioning drills. Players have been arrested and kicked off the team. Despite winning the oversigning National Championship two years ago by accepting National Letters of Intent from like, 448 players or something, the 2011 squad will have only 73 players on scholarship. Ole Miss will be lucky to win one game in the SEC. The only thing that could possibly save Nutt’s job would be their first ever trip to Atlanta, and that just ain’t happening.

image South Carolina; Steve Spurrier. An easy 1 here, but Spurrier is the type of coach that, if he doesn’t think he’s getting it done, would step aside before USC made a move. Not to worry, though. South Carolina’s first ever visit to Atlanta under Spurrier and upset of defending national champion Alabama has Gamecock fans more than willing to give him all the time he wants to figure out when he should retire. A very good 2011 recruiting class is gravy, too.

image Tennessee; Derek Dooley. Another scion of the Saban Line, with all of the character and motivational skills needed to be a successful head football coach, Dooley may still not quite be ready for big time football in the SEC. He’s recruited Ok. He seems to have control over a program that Lane Kiffin was letting run wild. But his resume was thin before he arrived at Rocky Top. He rates a 4. He’s almost certainly safe to return in 2012, barring a complete meltdown of a 2011 season. I think there’s enough room in the schedule to prevent that from happening. Win any two of the first three SEC matchups and the seat goes ice cold.

image Vanderbilt; James Franklin. Another 1. He’s yet to coach a down of SEC football, and Vandy’s long tradition of being the only SEC school with ACC quality football seems a perfect fit for Maryland’s former offensive coordinator. This was probably a better marriage for the Commodores than it will be for Franklin. He might field competitive teams, but the only thing they’ll be competing for is staying ahead of Ole Miss, at least for the 2011 season. If the guy can recruit at the national level and compete with Stanford and Notre Dame for prospects, maybe he’s the guy that gets the Commodores up to SEC caliber play on the field.

There you have it—a league of relative extremes with few in the middle. Saban, Muschamp, Mullen and Spurrier are the safest. They are followed closely by Franklin, Miles, Chizik, Petrino and Phillips. All of these guys are lead pipe locks to return for the 2012 season. The hottest seat in the league is that of Nutt, with Richt also possibly facing some music at the end of 2011. Dooley is the league’s only real question mark, but he’s better than even odds to come back.

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Monday, May 16, 2011

Excellent point/counterpoint on college football playoffs debate

image Here’s an excellent exchange between Dale Peterson of The Duck Stops Here and ECDawg of Leather Helmet Blog. TDSH is an Oregon Ducks blog; LHB is a Georgia Bulldogs blog that often links posts from this site.

I think they both make valid points. Dale relishes the importance of the college football regular season and how instituting a bracketed playoff system might jeopardize the importance of fall Saturday contests. EC acknowledges how important regular season games are, but also notes the ferocity of rivalry games and how, despite how teams and coaches might be tempted to look ahead, there is no substitute for the intensity of emotions stirred when Georgia faces Georgia Tech.

Could you imagine Mark Richt resting his best players and risking a loss to such a heated rival? Would Florida or Florida State take that weekend off? Would Nick Saban rest Trent Richardson for the upcoming SEC Championship Game if he knew losing the Iron Bowl wouldn’t affect his team’s chances in the playoffs?

I think you know the answer.

However, I believe the smaller schools—like TCU, Utah or Smurf U—might see the end of the regular season differently. Perhaps their coaches would take their foot off the gas if they knew they were already in a bracketed playoff, while the larger schools with bigger rivalries would still sense that there’s too much at stake in losing to a traditional rival.

Meanwhile, the debate over a playoff system in Big Boy College Football rages on and has even drawn the interest of Washington, DC. When and how this debate is settled is anyone’s guess.

Suffice it to say that you’ll know just how important the regular season is, if the start of it ever gets here. What is it, about 100 days from now? It’s gonna be a long summer…

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Sunday, May 15, 2011

Tressel hires Lightfoot Franklin mega-lawyer

image Give embattled Ohio State Head Football Coach Jim Tressel credit for knowing when to call in the really big guns. Tressel has hired Gene Marsh, the former Faculty Athletics Representative for the University of Alabama. Marsh has also chaired the NCAA’s Committee on Infractions.

He is currently a senior partner at the juggernaut law firm Lightfoot Franklin & White, the same Birmingham firm that represents Auburn Universty, Auburn grad and accused conspirator Robert Geddie and Colonial Bank’s former CEO, Bobby Lowder.

So why did Tressel go to Marsh?

Marsh is a 1978 graduate of Ohio State and has a longstanding relationship with the Buckeyes’ AD, Gene Smith.

Last Friday, Marsh laid down the first gauntlet by telling the Cleveland Plains Dealer that Tressel would not consider resigning.  Should the Buckeyes bad news get any worse—and some media types speculate that it will—they may be in the uncomfortably expensive position of having to fire him.

Of course, if the NCAA issues a show cause order on The Vest, Ohio State gets out of the contract without having to pay a buyout (Tressel would be separated for cause).

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Friday, May 13, 2011

Alabama Democrats’ Five Point Plan for Failure

image Laughable.

Let’s run these down to show why, if Alabama Democrats really do follow this plan, they will be wandering the wilderness for decades to come. Which, of course, is fine by me. I hope they go with it.

1. Blame the messenger. “The worst thing going for Democrats in America is Fox News,” Mark Kennedy said. “How many times have you gone in the drug store or the dentist, and they have it on? They’ve got their talking points down pat, and they are being broadcast all over the country every day.”

Really, Mark? The reason why Democrats got their butts kicked in November is because Fox News? I think the real reason is that for the first time since 1992, Democrats had full control of the levers of power in government and once the American people saw what they were doing with that control, we recoiled in disgust. The tea party movement wasn’t started by Fox. It was started by ordinary people who make up the center-right majority of this country’s electorate and who got your message loud and clear and wanted none of it.

2. Disintegrate. Kennedy calls for a “grassroots organization” in Alabama, and shift authority down to county level volunteers and activists. Conservatives think this is a GREAT idea, because it will permanently isolate the power brokers in Alabama Education Association and Alabama Democratic Conference. But I hold little hope that Paul Hubbert and Joe Reed will ever relinquish control until they either die of old age or land in federal prison. Such a move would also likely empower conservative Democrats who are more likely to work with Republicans in the state to achieve real, bipartisan reform. Unfortunately for the left wing of the party, it would also mean the end of liberalism in the state.

3. Embrace Obama. Y’all go right ahead and tie that millstone around your neck again. How’d it turn out for you in 2010? The only reason why Obama’s public image isn’t underwater right now is because the Nobel Peace Prize winner ordered the assassination of Osama bin Laden. Ask George Bush 41 how long that bump will last.

4. Alienate and destroy centrist/conservative Democrats. Kennedy wants to make sure that everyone who abandoned the party and switched to Republican are defeated in 2012. You may want to have a brief chat with Richard Shelby, who switched to the GOP after the 1994 Glorious Revolution and has served honorably ever since, never facing a serious threat. This is Alabama. Conservative Democrats in this state have voting records that would make establishment Republicans from the Northeast blush in embarrassment over their lack of conservative cajones. You shouldn’t be alienating those conservative Democrats. You should be embracing and listening to them. They didn’t abondon you. You abandoned them.

5. Get mean and fight. Oh, yeah. That’s exactly what ordinary Alabamians want to see—a bunch of grown men and women acting like SEIU and ACORN thugs who have threatened, intimidated and beaten ordinary Americans for disagreeing with their agenda. Alabamians—like the rest of the center-right majority that is disgusted with thug tactics and strong-arm politics—want their leaders to work together and serve the people, not themselves. We don’t want massive intrusions of government into our daily lives and we don’t want thugs screaming in our faces when we organize and speak out about a government that is spending this country into oblivion.

But if it’s a fight you want, it’s a fight you’ll get, and I’m betting on the little guy who sees too much of his paycheck supporting your bloated idea of utopia and spoiling any chance of his children or grandchildren being able to support themselves and their own families.

You’ve already seen the term twice in this blog post but it’s worth repeating again, just in case you’re particularly leftist and angry: This country is governed by a center-right majority. You lost the 2010 election because you went off into left field and if you stick to the same old same old, we’re gonna kick your asses again in 2012. We’ll run Donald Duck in 2012 and beat you.

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Baton Rouge ain’t Berkeley: Hundreds stop flag-burning protest at LSU

image This gentleman—and I use that term in the loosest possible definition—thought he’d stage a flag-burning protest right in the middle of the campus at Louisiana State University.

He quickly found out that the only similarity between Baton Rouge and Berkeley is that a major university runs through it.

Local news reports and accounts from witnesses said that a crowd of hundreds of counter protesters swarmed the site and when the leftwing nutjob arrived to do his dirty deed, they began pelting him with water balloons. As the crowd grew large and louder and more objects filled with liquids began to fly, police whisked the man to safety in a police cruiser. No flag was burned today.

Rumors that Les Miles was on the scene, preparing to offer the best water balloon thrower a football scholarship at Quarterback, turned out to be unfounded.

So, what prompted Ben Haas to come up with the great idea of announcing a flag-burning?  Well, it was the arrest of another leftwing goon, Isaac Eslava, for defacing the LSU war memorial and—wait for it—cutting down and burning the American flag flying over it.

That’s right, folks. A leftwing nutjob defaces a hallowed site on the hallowed ground of the LSU campus, burns a flag, steals a car and gets arrested. Outraged, another leftwing nutjob decides he’s gonna go one better. He announced to the world that he was gonna burn a flag in protest of the collaring of another flag-burning, America-hating wack job.

You can’t make this up.

But you can be sure of one thing—Baton Rouge ain’t Berkeley.

You GEAUX, Tigers.

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RIP Aaron Douglas. Albert Lin is a DICKHEAD

image A young life has apparently been cut tragically short, as internet news reports indicate that Alabama offensive lineman Aaron Douglas has died in the Jacksonville, Florida area.

Neither the Fernandina Beach Police Department nor the University of Alabama had made official statements as of 1:15 pm CDT, but the Tuscaloosa News’ Chase Goodbread wrote that statements from both were expected later today. The FB Police had earlier told Goodbread that they were investigating a death in their jurisdiction but that the investigation was not yet complete and that the next of kin of deceased had not yet been notified.

I had initially held off on this post, as the story had all the signs of an internet rumor gone horribly wild. That does not appear to be the case. I ask that you offer sincere prayers for Aaron, his family, his friends and teammates.  Aaron was known as a fun-loving, hard-working gregarious young man with a bright future.

No family should ever have to suffer such a loss.

Extra Point: I’m sure you’ve all seen or heard about the tasteless entry about Douglas’ passing that was posted on ESPN’s College Football Rumor Mill. I’m not reposting it or even showing a screenshot. I don’t blame ESPN for such a lack of class. I personally blame the author—Albert Lin—for thinking that the post would be cute and snarky. Dickhead.

UPDATE: Capstone Report has the official statement from the University of Alabama.

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Wednesday, May 11, 2011

Sneak Peak: Gene Chizik’s upcoming book, “ALL IN”

Charles Goldboog reported today that Auburn Tigers head football coach Gene Chizik’s book deal is in the works.

IBCR got a sneak peak at it and managed to come away with an exclusive shot of the cover.


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Tuesday, May 10, 2011

Court of Appeals throws out some Siegelman & Scrushy counts. Impact to BingoGate? UPDATE: Blow to defendants

News breaking today: Appeals court overturned some convictions, upheld most others and remanded the case back to the District Court for resentencing.

Last week, attorneys were in court for a hearing on USA vs McGregor et al, in which US District Judge Myron Thompson expressed some concerns over not having a decision from the appellate court. This decision could have a significant effect on how many and what type of counts the the prosecution ultimately brings against defendants at trial, currently scheduled to begin June 6, just weeks from now.  Thompson has also privately expressed frustration over the 11th Circuit’s inability to produce an opinion.

Now, he’s got one.

UPDATE: And it looks like Thompson has more than adequate guidance now, and will likely DENY the defendants’ motions to dismiss the counts alleging that campaign contributions and other items of value were provided to state officials in exchange for favorable treatment (i.e., a vote in favor of certain legislation).

Siegelman and Scrushy’s bribery convictions in this case were based upon the donation Scrushy gave to Siegelman’s education lottery campaign.12 As such, the convictions impact the First Amendment’s core values – protection of free political speech and the right to support issues of great public importance. It would be a particularly dangerous legal error from a civic point of view to instruct a jury that they may convict a defendant for his exercise of either of theseconstitutionally protected activities.

In a political system that is based upon raising private contributions for campaigns for public office and for issue referenda, there is ample opportunity for that error to be committed.

The Supreme Court has guarded against this possibility by interpreting federal law to require more for conviction than merely proof of a campaign donation followed by an act favorable toward the donor. McCormick v. United States, 500 U.S. 257 (1991). In reviewing a Hobbs Act prosecution for the federal crime of extortion under color of official right, the Court said:

Serving constituents and supporting legislation that will benefit the district and individuals and groups therein is the everyday business of a legislator. It is also true that campaigns must be run and financed. Money is constantly being solicited on behalf of candidates, who run on platforms and who claim support on the basis of their views and what they intend to do or have done. Whatever ethical considerations and appearances may indicate, to hold that legislators commit the federal crime of extortion when they act for the benefit of constituents or support legislation furthering the interests of some of their constituents, shortly before or after campaign contributions are solicited and received from those beneficiaries, is an unrealistic assessment of what Congress could have meant by making it a crime to obtain property from another, with his consent, “under color  of official right.” To hold otherwise would open to prosecution not only conduct that has long been thought to be well within the law but also conduct that in a very real sense is unavoidable so long as election campaigns are financed by private contributions or expenditures, as they have been from the beginning of the Nation.

The district court in this case instructed the jury that they could not convict the defendants of bribery in this case unless “the defendant and the official agree that the official will take specific action in exchange for the thing of value.”

From today’s ruling, we can now answer the question: Is a campaign contribution a bribe?

The Courts’ answer: Sometimes.

UPDATE II: In another crushing blow to the defense in USA vs. McGregor et al, Scrushy and Siegelman argued that the quid pro quo arrangement involving a campaign contribution in exchange for favorable treatment had to be express, meaning that there had to be some evidence that the parties to the conspiracy had to overtly agree with one another that something of value was being exchanged for some favorable official action. Furthermore, Siegelman and Scrushy both argued that the agreement had to have been overheard or “by means of electronic surveillance.”

The Court disagreed, stating that if the public official has obtained a payment to which he was not entitled, knowing that the payment was made in return for official acts, he is guilty of the crime alleged.

In the BingoGate case, there actually is evidence from means of electronic surveillance, and now that the wiretap evidence in that case will be heard by a jury, the prosecution’s chances at conviction took a big step forward with this decision today.

UPDATE III: The 11th Circuit opinion affects Counts 2 through 17 in USA vs McGregor et al, which is 16 of the original 33 counts in the indictment.

UPDATE IV: As expected, US District Judge Myron Thompson has ordered all parties in the BingoGate case to file supplemental briefs discussing the impact of Siegelman, due no later than May 13.

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Cruel Irony: Auburn is example of why the BCS works and why it doesn’t

"There's no judge or jury in the world that can make you enter into a four-team, eight-team or 16-team playoff." Big TenlevenTwelve Commissioner Jim Delany told USA Today. Delany was reacting to the news that Assistant US Attorney General Christine Varney had dispatched a letter of inquiry on the Bowl Championship Series to NCAA President Mark Emmert, asking three “tough questions” about the NCAA’s lack of—and plans for—a playoff system to determine the Football Bowl Subdivision national champions.

The Department of Justice Antitrust Division growled at the wrong guy—Emmert has about as much power to establish an FBS playoff as I do. But one of the right guys growled back. Delany was also quoted by USA Today about what might happen should the courts find a way to dismantle the multi-million collusion between six big boy conferences and four big boy bowl games. “We know what [the college football postseason once] was, and we know what is, now.”

image How would you like to be perhaps the only school to have been screwed out of a national championship by not one, but both systems?

Following the 1983 season, Auburn went into the Sugar Bowl against Michigan ranked #3 in the nation. Miami, Ranked #5, was paired against top ranked Nebraska in the Orange Bowl while #2 Texas faced #7 Georgia in the Cotton Bowl. Georgia defeated Texas, Miami held on to beat Nebraska. But poor Auburn, which played rather poorly but defeating Michigan 9-7, got jumped by Miami, who was awarded the consensus national championship.

That’s the system that we’d go back to in the absence of the BCS.

But the BCS has been just as cruel to Auburn as the good old days were.  Fast forward to 2004, when Oklahoma and Southern Cal began the season as the two top ranked teams in the country, stayed that way all season long. Auburn also ended the season undefeated, but Oklahoma met Southern Cal for the BCS Championship, with the Trojans blowing out the Sooners for the title.

Auburn got screwed again.

The program is the only major conference program to have had the door slammed in their faces by both the old flawed system and the new flawed system. Would a playoff—or even a plus one system—have gotten the Tigers either one of those titles?  Who knows.

We do know that Delany is right, though. No court can force the creation of such a system because the school presidents of the FBS institutions hold that power.

But if they ever needed a poster child for doing so, they need to look no further than Auburn University.

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Monday, May 9, 2011

NCAA acknowledges receipt of BCS letter from Department of Justice

image Last week, news reports showed that the Department of Justice’s Antitrust Division had delivered a letter addressed to NCAA president Mark Emmert, asking what the league’s plans were regarding a playoff system to determine the Football Bowl Subdivision’s football national championship.

In response, Emmert, through NCAA VP of Communications Bob Williams, issued a short, one-paragraph statement. “When we actually receive the letter from the Department of Justice we will respond to its questions directly.  It should be noted that President Emmert consistently has said, including in the New York Times article, that the NCAA is willing to help create a playoff format for Football Bowl Subdivision football if the FBS membership makes that decision.”

On Friday, the NCAA finally acknowledged receipt of the letter.

I’m not about to wade into the debate over whether a playoff system in the top football division is desirable over the bowl system currently in place. Nor am I even going to touch the questions about how many teams should be fielded, how they should be selected or how a playoff system might incorporate the bowls. Those are matters that will play out by themselves over the months years to come.

What I want to do is point out the last sentence in Emmert’s short response to the NCAA before it even formally acknowledged DOJ’s inquiry. If the FBS membership—ie, the presidents of the FBS universities—want a playoff system, the NCAA says it willing to help.

Neither the NCAA administration, nor the BCS, nor the conference commissioners of the ACC, Big 10, Big XII, Big East, Pac-10 or SEC have much say-so in whether big time college football establishes a playoff system. The power to do that lies squarely in the hands of the big time college presidents.

As onerous as many college football fans find the BCS and bowl system, the college presidents like it the way it is. The way it is includes keeping the NCAA out of the organization—and revenue stream—associated with a playoff system.  It’s hard for me to see how a formal DOJ inquiry into the NCAA’s “plans” could make anything happen, and I don’t see how the Utah Attorney General’s pending anti-trust lawsuit does anything, either.

What will it take to reform the system and get the league moving towards a playoff? I don’t think anything short of a grassroots fan revolt will succeed. Fans will have to stop buying tickets, stop going to games, stop watching on television and stop being fans of college football until the presidents feel forced to make a change.

Do you like the chances of that happening?

Me, either.

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Friday, May 6, 2011

NOTHING GOOD will come of the Jefferson County debris contract

image Jefferson County, Alabama, already standing on the brink of bankruptcy before last week’s devastating and deadly tornadoes, had a way to avoid finding the money to pay for the collection, removal, disposal and monitoring of millions of tons of storm debris.

The US Army Corps of Engineers, through its Advanced Contracting Initiative, has a standing, indefinite delivery/indefinite quantity contract with Phillips & Jordan, the Zephryllis, Florida based disaster debris management firm that handled the removal and disposal of the Twin Towers debris after 9/11. The Corps and Phillips & Jordan have worked together on many different events and have the business of debris management down to a science, employing a high-tech, wireless and GIS-based monitoring and management system. All counties in the state eligible for Public Assistance under the Presidential Disaster Declaration had access to that contract. Tuscaloosa County wisely accepted the federal assistance. Other counties are likely to follow suit.

Jefferson County? Nope.

With the same infinite wisdom county leaders showed in dragging the county to the brink of financial ruin, JeffCo has elected to enter into an emergency contract with Ceres Environmental Services, a Minnesota-based company that gained notoriety following Hurricane Katrina by swindling millions from workers in Louisiana. The company was also cited by Corps Internal Review staff on numerous occasions for failing to comply with basic terms of their contract. None of the prime contractors hired by the Corps after Katrina were angels, but Ceres’ citations piled up like storm debris.

FEMA also has numerous regulations on how debris cleanup operations are to be monitored. Debris has to be separated by type. Hazardous materials must be segregated and handled by specialized contractors. White goods must be processed to remove coolant and other hazardous materials they may contain.

Every single truckload of material has to be witnessed by a Quality Assurance representative of the entity hiring the debris contractor, and must sign off on the time, date, location and type of debris collected. Every truckload must then be witnessed arriving at an approved reduction or disposal site. Small storm events don’t take much effort to clean up in the aftermath. Last Wednesday’s storm was historic in both the damage caused and the debris generated. Ceres is going to descend on Jefferson County with an army of trucks, skid steer loaders, knucklebooms and track hoes.

If this operation doesn’t go strictly according the bookshelves of FEMA regulations, the 75% federal share of the cost isn’t reimbursed. How likely is the state to pick up a tab that could reach into the hundreds of millions?

This concept is completely lost on the normally watchful Birmingham News.

Jefferson County is woefully unprepared for this effort, and if they don’t do it right, they will tumble off the precipice and fall right into the abyss of federal bankruptcy court.


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