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Tuesday, February 2, 2010

Is Fraud-Tainted Money Helping to Fuel Alabama's Soaring Football Recruiting Costs?

University of Alabama football coach Nick Saban is being hailed as a master recruiter after leading the Crimson Tide to a national championship just three years after taking over a team that was about .500.

Thanks to nifty reporting from Jon Solomon of The Birmingham News, we now know one reason Saban is such a strong recruiter: He has a whole lot more money to use than did his predecessor, Mike Shula.

Thanks to our own reporting here at Legal Schnauzer, we have reason to ask this question: What is the source of these new-found recruiting dollars? Is it possible that one source is UA board member and financial booster Paul Bryant Jr., the head of a company that has been tainted by its involvement in a massive insurance-fraud scheme?

Alabama's dramatic increase in spending on football recruiting coincides with some curious actions Bryant took with his fraud-tainted company, Alabama Reassurance. Is that a coincidence? The answer to that question is unclear.

But we do know that in 2006, Mike Shula's last year as head coach, Alabama spent $237,774 on football recruiting. By 2009, that figured had more than tripled, to $750,045.

No wonder Nick Saban's a brilliant coach, with the university already planning to build a statue in his honor. Perhaps they should build the statue out of dollar bills.

Is it possible that some of those dollar bills are tainted by insurance fraud? Well, we've noted that Bryant decided to liquidate Alabama Reassurance in late 2007. That coincides with a massive spike in UA's spending on football recruiting.

At the time of its liquidation, Alabama Re had roughly $238 million in admitted assets. According to a 2006 report from the Alabama Department of Insurance, five partners (including Bryant) were involved with Alabama Re.

Did they divide up the loot among themselves? Did they invest it in other ventures? And how much of it came from fraudulent activities, such as those that landed Alabama Re in the middle of the Allen W. Stewart case in Pennsylvania?

Here is an interesting question: Was Nick Saban lured to Alabama with promises that his recruiting budget would be tripled? If so, who made those promises, and what funds did they plan to use?

Nick Saban, master tactician? Maybe. But money matters in most all endeavors. And we suspect a whole lot of football coaches could win championships with the setup Saban has at Alabama.

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