|Paul Bryant Jr.|
For one, the family of alleged rapist T.J. "Sweet Tea" Bunn Jr. was among the earliest donors to a fund-raising effort that helped launch a 14-year era of dominance for the Crimson Tide, mostly under Coach Nick Saban. Second, UA football "godfather" Paul Bryant Jr. -- the son of the late Hall of Fame coach, Bear Bryant -- was out front in an effort that led to massive enrollment gains via heavy recruitment of non-resident students, such as Megan Rondini.
In fact, the ties between the Bunn family and Bryant appear close enough to raise this question: Did the Bunns seek Bryant's help -- he holds the state's most famous name, after all -- to help quash a possible criminal case against "Sweet Tea"?
How close are the Bunns and Bryant? When UA launched in March 2002 a $100-million fund-raising campaign for athletic-facility improvements, chairman of the Crimson Tradition Fund (CTF) was Paul Bryant Jr. Among the original 27 donors who formed the foundation of the CTF were Terry and Sonny Bunn -- the heads of ST Bunn Construction and the father and uncle, respectively, of "Sweet Tea" Bunn Jr. From a press release about the CTF's founding:
The Crimson Tradition Fund Committee, chaired by Paul Bryant, Jr., is comprised of the following University of Alabama supporters: Owen W. Arnonov, Montgomery, Ala.; Randy Billingsley, Mobile, Ala.; Paul W. Bryant, Jr., Tuscaloosa, Ala.; Sonny Bunn, Tuscaloosa, Ala.; Terry Bunn, Tuscaloosa, Ala.; Angus Cooper, II, Mobile, Ala.; Gary Neill Drummond, Birmingham, Ala.; Elise Durbin, Birmingham, Ala.; Melissa Durbin, Birmingham, Ala.; William E. Ezell, Fairhope, Ala.; Wayne H. Gillis, Birmingham, Ala.; Joe Kelley, Nashville, Tenn.; John J. McMahon, Jr.; Birmingham, Ala.; Robert W. (Bud) Moore, Catherine, Ala.; Ozzie Newsome, Baltimore, Md.; Thomas L. Patterson, Birmingham, Ala.; Johnny Plott, Tuscaloosa, Ala.; Farid Rafiee, Huntsville, Ala.; Ambassador Joseph M. Rodgers, Nashville, Tenn.; Richard Scrushy, Birmingham, Ala.; Britt Sexton, Decatur, Ala.; Bart Starr, Birmingham, Ala.; Ted Taylor, Prattville, Ala.; Michael D. Thompson, Birmingham, Ala.; Stanley Verciglio, Birmingham, Ala.; Duncan Williams, Memphis, Tenn., and James W. Wilson, III, Montgomery, Ala.
One year after forming the Crimson Tradition Fund, UA hired Robert Witt as president. Bryant was on the Board of Trustees then, and chaired the committee to hire a new leader for the Tuscaloosa campus. From a 2013 article at bamainsider.com:
Before the football resurgence, the University of Alabama also began a growth period that started with the hiring of Robert Witt as president in 2003. Bryant, in his role on the board of trustees, was part of the process in luring Witt from the University of Texas at Arlington.
"That was a good coincidence. I don't think it had anything to do with our ability to get him."
When Witt arrived in Tuscaloosa, one of his primary objectives was clear:
Witt began an aggressive growth campaign, building new student housing and increasing enrollment. In the 10 years since Witt, who became chancellor of the UA system last March, became president, Alabama has increased enrollment from 19,600 to 34,800, added more than 300 new faculty (a 22 percent increase) and added more than 600 new staff employees (a 17 percent increase), all while seeing state funding decrease $58 million in the last five years. In the last 10 years, UA has added 5,000 new beds in on-campus housing with the construction of new dormitories funded by bond issues.
According to documents obtained from open-record requests, UA's revenues have grown from almost $600 million in 2007 to more than $782 million in 2012.
The idea of greatly enhancing enrollment, which eventually focused heavily on out-of-state students, did not originate with Witt. It came from Bryant. As the bamainsider.com article put it, "Witt's vision fit Bryant's mission":
"We had a period of time before Dr. Witt where we were losing students to other schools, to Auburn in particular," Bryant said. "I'm not talking athletics, I'm just talking about students.
"A lot of my friends' children weren't coming to Alabama, (friends) that had been to Alabama. And the one, I won't call it a charge, but the one suggestion I had for Dr. Witt that I wanted to see, when he was hired, was that my friends would send their children to Alabama, and that the leaders in the state would come from the University of Alabama.
"That's what he set out to do with recruiting, first off particularly recruiting in-state -- you have to do that first -- and then he broadened it."
That effort to "broaden" student recruitment eventually reached Austin, Texas, where it attracted a promising young student named Megan Rondini. Megan's experience at UA appears to have been mostly positive until she encountered T.J. Bunn Jr. one evening at Innisfree Irish Pub. That led to a sexual encounter that Megan insisted was not consensual, and when she sought justice, her efforts were met mostly with a stonewall from university officials and local law enforcement.
|Nick Saban and the Crimson Tide|
Could the lawsuit help uncover uncomfortable truths, much like the Jerry Sandusky scandal did at Penn State? It certainly might. The Rondini story already is closer to UA football than many fans might want to think.