|Alabama quarterback A.J. McCarron|
A curious online trend started less than two minutes into last night's BCS title game between Notre Dame and the University of Alabama.
Alabama took the opening kickoff and marched 82 yards in five plays to score with less than three minutes gone on the clock. A college football fan in Fredericksburg, Virginia, must have sensed how the night was going to go and went to his (or her) computer and did a Google keyword search on "Alabama football scandal."
That led straight to my blog, Legal Schnauzer. The search was recorded on my blog statistics at 19:31:59, which is one second short of 7:32 CST in regular time. The game had started at 7:30, and one college football follower seemed to be thinking, "Dammit, Alabama's going to kick Notre Dame's ass, just like they kicked LSU's ass last year--and Texas' ass three years ago.
"I'm getting sick of this. Why is Alabama so good? Something's got to be rotten at that university. I think I'll do a Google search."
Our friend in Virginia seemed to open up the floodgates. His search was the first of dozens related to any sign of ugliness in Crimson Tide Nation. And since I'm the only journalist who has covered the one clear, known scandal connected to the University of Alabama football program, many of those searches landed on my blog.
The real scandal at the University of Alabama, to my knowledge, does not involve a football player or Head Coach Nick Saban; it involves Paul Bryant Jr., president of the UA Board of Trustees and a central figure in a federal insurance-fraud prosecution that netted a 15-year prison sentence for a one-time Philadelphia lawyer named Allen W. Stewart. Bryant managed to escape serious repercussions, with the apparent aide of a confidant named G. Douglas Jones, who was U.S. Attorney for the Northern District of Alabama at the time. But one of Bryant's companies, Alabama Reassurance, was implicated in nine counts that drew guilty verdicts in the Stewart case.
Bryant Jr., the son of the late Hall of Fame football coach Paul "Bear" Bryant, oversees a public board that manages hundreds of millions of taxpayer dollars--even though he has documented ties to insurance fraud. That might cause concern in some states. But in our football-mad surroundings, many citizens only know that the Crimson Tide has won three of the past four NCAA football championships. They don't care that the chief trustee once was involved in a scam that left a bunch of Americans holding worthless life-insurance policies.
People outside of Alabama, however, apparently do care about any sign of impropriety surrounding the Crimson Tide football program. In fact, their interest seemed to gain steam throughout the first half, as Alabama went on to a 42-14 trouncing of the Fighting Irish.
Our visitor from Virginia got things rolling, but he wasn't the only person who seemed to be wondering, "Why in the hell is Alabama so much better than everybody else in football?" His visit was followed by a stream of others, with readers from one coast to another. Here is a list of just some of the keyword searches, with general location of the searcher, that brought folks to my blog during the first half of last night's rout: (My stat service, by the way, helpfully provides a ranking of where Legal Schnauzer falls on certain Google searches. We will provide those rankings where available.)
* "Paul William Bryant Jr."--Sanford, North Carolina
* "What does Alabama spend in football?"--Meridian, Idaho
* "Alabama football criminals"--Centerville, Massachusetts; Philadelphia, Pennsylvania, and quite a few more. (No. 1)
* "Alabama football scandal"--Fredericksburg, Virginia; Lemoore, California; Branford, Connecticut, and many more. (No. 2)
* "How corrupt is the Alabama football program?" Lincoln, Nebraska.
A lot of searches were encrypted so I could not tell their contents. But a whole bunch of them landed on a post titled "The Real Scandal Behind the University of Alabama Football Program." The nature of the search seems pretty clear.
The pace of searches slowed down in the second half as many viewers apparently lost interest in the game and became resigned to the fact that Nick Saban soon would be hoisting another championship trophy.
Is all of this just sour grapes on the part of college football fans who do not count Alabama as their favorite team? Perhaps it is. The Saban era has been relatively free of serious scandal connected to the football program. Here are a few articles that have been written about certain issues, but nothing much has come of them:
* "Alabama's Unhappy Castoffs: Ex Players Say Coach Nick Saban Pressured Them to Take Medical Scholarships; a 'Bitter' Outcome," by Hannah Karp and Darren Everson, The Wall Street Journal, September 24, 2010;
* "Former Players Say Saban Twisted the Truth: Alabama's Football Coach Said Four Athletes Were Let Go for Breaking Team Rules--Three of Them Say That's Not True," by Hannah Karp, The Wall Street Journal, November 25, 2010;
* "Alabama's Timeline Makes No Sense; Nick Saban Comments On Story," by Clay Travis, outkickthecoverage.com, July 26, 2011.
None of those stories caused a serious headache for UA fans. But a genuine investigation into Paul Bryant Jr.'s activities might do just that.
ESPN has ranked Bryant Jr. among the most powerful boosters in college sports. Public documents show that Bryant liquidated Alabama Reassurance in late 2007 and replaced it with a company called Alabama Life Reinsurance. Curiously, Alabama Re was a company with admitted assets of more than $238 million--and only two full-time employees.
Was someone making a sweet profit off of that gig? It sure looks like it. Why was the company liquidated, and did that help hide any signs of financial chicanery? We don't know.
Anyone interested in scandal surrounding Alabama football should ponder the question we asked in the title of this post: "Is Alabama's Football Factory Fueled In Part With Proceeds From Insurance Fraud?"
Even the most cynical college football fan has to admit that Nick Saban is a splendid coach. One way or another, he attracts an impressive array of talent to Tuscaloosa--and they play the way Saban wants them to play.
Is there a scandal around Crimson Tide football? If so, it starts well beyond the sidelines. And you can almost bet it involves Paul Bryant Jr.--plus potentially funny numbers connected to his insurance businesses.