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Tuesday, January 10, 2012

Alabamians Are Blinded By the Light of College-Football Glory

Nick Saban and his players celebrate
 their latest national title. 

For the second time in three years, the University of Alabama is the king of college football. The Crimson Tide took care of business by throttling LSU 21-0 last night in the BCS National Championship Game at the Superdome in New Orleans.

When paired with Auburn's title last year, it means the state of Alabama is home to the last three national champions--and no state ever has done that before.

A state that ranks near the bottom in many socioeconomic indicators clearly is No. 1 in the realm of college football. That means almost all of our citizens today are cheering wildly, crowing incessantly, or both.

Those who believe in separation of church and state might want to visit Alabama and check it out. College football is our state religion--and Bryant-Denny Stadium in Tuscaloosa and Jordan-Hare Stadium in Auburn serve as our treasured cathedrals. Church and state in Alabama are "inextricably intertwined," as lawyers are prone to say, and that's just how our citizens like it--especially when the football church keeps churning out national championships every year.

Alabama fans should revel in their national title, and Auburn fans should puff out their chests with knowledge that they played a major role in a history-making "three-peat." But when sanity is restored in our state--and it might take a while--Alabamians should ponder this thought: The two men who played the largest roles in shaping our football powerhouses both have ties to massive financial fraud.

The head coaches--Nick Saban at Alabama, Gene Chizik at Auburn--provide the stern but agreeable public faces for the programs. But they are just caretakers--with one down year or a big contract offer from another employer, they could be gone with the wind.

Paul Bryant Jr. (Alabama) and Bobby Lowder (Auburn) have been the real power brokers behind the programs. Both have deep ties to the financial industry, both have served as university trustees, and both have given money and made decisions that turned UA and AU into national powers--long before Nick Saban or Gene Chizik arrived on the scene.

UA fans today are heaping adulation on Trent Richardson, A.J. McCarron, Courtney Upshaw, and other Crimson Tide stars. AU fans are dreaming about the exploits last year of Cam Newton, Nick Fairley, Mike Dyer, and other Tiger standouts--and wondering when Chizik will make another title run. (Memo to Gene: It had better be soon.)

That's the way it should be. Sports are meant to be a pleasant diversion--and it's certainly more pleasant when your team wins than when it loses.

Paul Bryant Jr.
But Alabamians should not be blinded by the fact that we've put our universities--and millions of public dollars--in the hands of people like Paul Bryant Jr. and Bobby Lowder.

As we have reported here on numerous occasions, Bryant and one of his companies, Alabama Reassurance, have unmistakable ties to an insurance-fraud scheme that netted a 15-year federal prison sentence for a Pennsylvania lawyer/entrepreneur named Allen W. Stewart. The mainstream press in our state has happily ignored the story, and that's probably the way our citizens want it--as long as the national titles keep rolling in.

Lowder, the former CEO of Colonial Bancgroup, was a prominent player in the largest bank collapse of 2009. A Florida man named Lee Bentley Farkas has been sentenced to 30 years in federal prison for his role in the failure of Colonial Bank.

Alabamians like to keep score, so let's check the scoreboard on the financial dealings of the money men behind UA and AU football: Paul Bryant Jr. and his company conducted business with a man who is serving a 15-year federal prison sentence; Bobby Lowder and his company conducted business with a man who is headed to the federal slammer for 30 years.

College football fans in Alabama should enjoy the glory while they can. If federal authorities ever take a close look at the money flowing in and out of the two programs--and the sources from which it comes--it could all take a mighty tumble.


Matt Osborne said...

Let's also admit that Alabama, a state with huge budget problems that can only be remedied by cuts to education, has won the national title for three years in part by dumping more money into college athletics than just about any other state. Look at what Alabama pays for Nick Saban.

legalschnauzer said...

Good point, Matt. Isn't it interesting that we demand excellence in our football programs but accept mediocrity in our classrooms? Isn't it also interesting that Paul Bryant Jr., who has no discernible background in education, is president of the UA board of trustees? Based on the public record, I'm not sure Bryant even has a legit record in business.

Anonymous said...

Let's also admit that this state has NOTHING to offer its citizens but football.

I wonder how our way below average students would fare in this state IF as much emphasis was put on education as was at the games...or how many people without jobs and hurting would benefit with the money the coaches are payed for a bunch of kids that barely can speak English run around the field with a ball in their hands?

I think our priorities are in the wrong place. I can't enjoy things knowing there are hurting people. Look at the coverup at Penn State. Do not even think that if something was going on at Alabama you'd never hear about it.Anything including murder would be covered up. FOOTBALL IS THE GOD OF MOST OF THE PEOPLE here in Alabama. The winning coaches could murder and someone else would take the blame as long as the coach was winning and the game continued. Sad but true.

I am not sure why Bryant has not been charged. I guess he never will be either because of the family name and plus he has more money than God and sure can help out the University of AL.

jeffrey spruill said...

Did not the Romans have "bread & circuses?"(Circus Maximus)

Keep ones mind focused on the insignificant while the action is REALLY happening over here:

Bobby Lowder built Alabama's Colonial Bank into a real estate money machine, only to see it become the largest bank failure this year.

legalschnauzer said...


If you go back and look at the U.S. Attorney's Office in the Northern District of Alabama at the time--late 1997-1998--you will see why Bryant wasn't charged. He had a friend in a key position, and that always helps.

I disagree about what this state has to offer. With our natural resources, physical beauty, and strategic location, we could be one of the 10 best states in the country to live. But our corrupt bankers, lawyers, judges, politicians, etc. play on our race-based fears and use them to keep us running in place.

As J. Spruill notes above, college football is the perfect distraction--it keeps us from recognizing the screw job that Bryant, Lowder and Co. are applying to the masses.

Alabamians complain at length about our politicians. But it goes beyond that. Our business and legal sectors are hugely corrupt--and they have bought the politicians and taken over the universities.

I think one reason Bryant spent tons of money to help hire Nick Saban is that he knew the masses would be distracted if the Crimson Tide were winning big. If Mike Shula had stayed, doing well but not winning national titles, the unrest might have caused the citizenry to look at Bryant's unsavory past.

Lowder's done the same thing. Bring in Chizik and Cam Newton, and fans pay less attention to the collapse of Colonial Bank.

Anonymous said...

Southern states especially Alabama show up in the top of a list of collegiate football winners. However, we do not do so well when we look at the strongest measure of quality of life, the median age of death. Lets look at where the Southern states with these winning teams would fit on the CIA's ranking of countries by life expectancy, the demographic term for the median age at death. Alabama's life expectancy of 74.6 which ties Saint Kitts and Nevis, a small Cuba neighbor, for ranking 96th on the list of 222 countries. Louisiana, with a life expectancy of 74, falls just below the 108th ranking Saudi Arabia. Arkansas does a little better with a life expectancy of 75.5 which puts it just below 84th ranking Qatar. South Carolina has a life expectancy of 75.8 and would fall just below 79th ranking Slovakia. Georgia, which only makes it in the top 20 for football falls just below the 73rd country on the CIA list, Uruguay. If our health insurance and health care system was really doing it's job, we should be close to our economic, cultural, and biologically closest neighbors, Canada with a life expectancy of 81.38 and Australia at 81.81. I guess that on average those of us in the south are giving up about eight years of life to have great football.

James H Gundlach
Retired Auburn Professor
loging as anonymous because I can't get the system to take my name.