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Monday, March 30, 2009

How Many Ways Can UAB Screw Up Its Basketball Program?

The University of Alabama yesterday named Anthony Grant as its new men's basketball coach. Grant, the former coach at Virginia Commonwealth University and a longtime assistant at two-time national champion University of Florida, was generally hailed as an excellent hire.

All of which reminds us of how my former employer, the University of Alabama at Birmingham (UAB), seems to be doing everything in its power to screw up its once-proud basketball program. And published reports indicate dark days might be ahead for UAB hoops fans.

What does Anthony Grant's hiring have to do with UAB? Kevin Scarbinsky, sports columnist for The Birmingham News does a nice job of laying it out.

Scarbinsky notes that while Grant seems to enjoy immense respect across the college-basketball world, UAB blew a chance to hire him three years ago. Instead, UAB officials hired Mike Davis, who now seems to be leading the Blazer program over a cliff.

Davis, the former head coach at Indiana University, has done fairly well on the court at UAB. But he apparently has made it clear to a number of people (including players, would-be players, and fellow coaches) that he does not want to be at UAB for long. That seems to have caused a once-promising recruiting class to fall apart. Three highly regarded prospects who once were headed to UAB--DeMarcus Cousins, Jon Kreft, and Casey Mitchell--now appear to be headed elsewhere.

With just four returning players for next year, and two early signees, UAB will need to sign seven players this spring to fill out its allotted 13 roster spots. That means the next year or two could see some awfully rough seas on the court for UAB.

Meanwhile, Scarbinsky raises this interesting question: Why did Alabama hire Grant instead of former UAB head coach Mike Anderson, who just led the University of Missouri to the Elite Eight of the NCAA Tournament? Anderson, a Birmingham native who enjoyed considerable success on the court at UAB, was a favorite of many Crimson Tide fans and probably would have returned to his home state for the $2 million or so that Alabama is paying Grant.

But Scarbinsky hints that all was not well off the court at UAB under Anderson. And that might be why Alabama turned away from him:

Sources said that at least one influential Alabama trustee had an issue with the academic state of the UAB program Anderson left behind and the off-court problems experienced by some of his Missouri players.

It's true that UAB basketball suffered a hit in the NCAA's Academic Progress Rate, in part because of players Anderson brought to campus, but a mid-major like UAB has to take more academic risks in recruiting to compete with the likes of Memphis.

It's also true that the UAB administration as a whole didn't take the academic affairs of its athletes as seriously as it should have until the school was embarrassed by its low APR numbers.

Published reports indicate that an NCAA investigation, possibly centering on academic fraud, could be brewing at UAB. Scarbinsky seems to be saying that UAB's leadership, with President Carol Garrison at the top, probably is complicit in any academic problems that surface at UAB.

Scarbinsky also includes this interesting nugget:

One source close to UAB said the school's President Carol Garrison is no fan of Anderson's and that she made her feelings known to other officials in the university system.

Why would University of Alabama officials listen to Carol Garrison about anything? Abundant evidence indicates Garrison can't manage her own campus, much less one 60 miles down the road. Her tenure at UAB has been marked by one fiasco after another. Her handling of human-resources issues, including my unlawful termination, has been atrocious--so much so that UAB's human resources director recently left for what appears to be a lesser job at Wake Forest.

And a source tells Legal Schnauzer that numerous business leaders in Birmingham are unhappy with Garrison's leadership. We understand that an article on that subject will be appearing soon in a local publication.

One thing is for certain: If academic fraud is found to have occurred in UAB's men's basketball program, it will be most fitting that it is uncovered during the Carol Garrison era. Various forms of fraud have been a hallmark of Garrison's leadership from the earliest days.

It started with reports of Garrison's unseemly dalliance with former University of Tennessee President John Shumaker. It continued with reports of massive research fraud at UAB, in which federal taxpayers were cheated out of hundreds of millions of dollars, according to court documents. It continued with reports of UAB employees using state-owned equipment to send racist and anti-gay e-mails--a clear violation of university policy that resulted in little or no punishment.

And of course, you have the unlawful termination of your humble blogger. On the surface, that appears to raise a number of civil issues--age and gender discrimination, wrongful termination, retaliation, defamation, First Amendment violations, etc.

But it almost certainly raises criminal issues, too. If UAB officials bowed to external pressures and cheated me out of my job--and used the U.S. mails or wires in furtherance of that scheme--it constitutes honest-services fraud. And that's a federal crime.

If Barack Obama appoints a tough U.S. attorney for Birmingham--and that appears to be a mighty big if at this point--that person could have a field day checking into the sleaze that emanates from UAB and the University of Alabama System.

Regardless of what our new U.S. attorney does, we certainly will be investigating UAB sleaze here at Legal Schnauzer. Interesting leads are coming in from readers on an almost daily basis.

Before the smoke clears, problems in men's basketball might be the least of Carol Garrison's worries.

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