Yahoo! Sports reported on Wednesday that five Southeastern Conference football players violated NCAA rules by receiving extra benefits before they finished their college careers.
If proven to be true, the NCAA might have grounds to strip Alabama of its 2012 national championship.
Former Crimson Tide defensive lineman Luther Davis, according to the report, served as intermediary between agents and financial advisers to the five players, including Tide offensive lineman DJ Fluker — a key player on Alabama’s 2012 national championship team and a first-round pick in the 2013 NFL Draft.
Coach Nick Saban said curtly he put the case in the hands of school administrators who’ll do “a very, very good job of managing.”
“I didn’t read the article,” Saban said. “I just came from practice. I know (athletic director) Bill (Battle) has already made a comment about the story. I say from an administrative standpoint and a compliance standpoint, our people here do a fantastic job. I know we have one of the best agent education programs in terms of what we try to do to help our players make good choices and decisions about what they do and what they don’t do when it comes to agents. I have full confidence in our leadership. We’re going to do whatever we need to do to handle the situation appropriately, and I know that we will. I don’t know anything about any current players that would have any circumstances relative to this. So there’s no sense in asking about that.
“For as high-profile players as we’ve had around here, I’m really pleased with the way most of them, for the most part, have managed their circumstances and situations and focused on what they’ve needed to do for the University of Alabama.”
He became visibly angered when questions continued at his press conference, walking away from the podium with a glare and commenting, “appreciate your interest in the game.” Saban expected not to be talking about the NCAA or enforcement but how the Crimson Tide would stop Johnny Manziel at College Station on Saturday. Saban denied the Fluker story would be a distraction.
Alabama issued a statement claiming to be aware — and actively looking into — the allegations.
“We have been aware of some of the allegations in today’s story and our compliance department was looking into this situation prior to being notified that this story was actually going to be published,” Battle said. “Our review is ongoing. We diligently educate our student-athletes on maintaining compliance with NCAA rules, and will continue to do so.”
The alleged transactions in the report would violate NCAA Bylaw 22.214.171.124, prohibiting college athletes from receiving benefits from agents or other representatives.
Alabama has retained Birmingham-based firm Starnes Davis Florie to consult in the Fluker case.
A message on Fluker’s Twitter page April 23, the week of the draft, appeared to be a confession of wrongdoing, but Fluker and his agents claim he was hacked. “Yea I took $ n college so wat,” the tweet read. “I did wat i had to do.”
The other players involved are Tennessee quarterback Tyler Bray, Tennessee defensive end Maurice Couch, Mississippi State defensive tackle Fletcher Cox and Mississippi State wideout Chad Bumphis.
Fluker, Bray and Cox are all on NFL rosters. Bumphis was recently released by the Miami Dolphins. Couch is a senior starter for Tennessee this season.
All of the others players are beyond the reach of the NCAA for punishment and are not forced to cooperate. However, Mississippi State said the players from its program will do just that.
Cox and Bumphis informed the school they will fully cooperate with the Bulldogs’ internal investigation on the matter.
In the Yahoo! report, Davis is linked to the five players by text messages, Western Union fund transfers, banking statements, flight receipts and other financial material. Yahoo! said it received records from a source with ties to NFL agents.
Davis declined to comment.
The three NFL agents and three financial advisers told Yahoo! they provided more than $45,500 to Davis. Four of the six said they did not know Davis was providing benefits to the five SEC players.
If proven by the NCAA, Alabama’s national title might be endangered. USC vacated its championship following penalties related to extra benefits received by former tailback Reggie Bush during his career with the Trojans. They also vacated a separate championship game appearance.
The report also might spell trouble for Tennessee and Mississippi State, which are both on probation until the summer of 2015 for previous rules violations in their respective football programs.
Tennessee officials declined comment. Alabama and NCAA officials were contacted Wednesday morning and had no immediate comment.
Mississippi State issued a statement to Yahoo! Sports.
“Mississippi State constantly educates our student athletes about agent related issues,” the school told Yahoo Sports in a statement. “We’ve also worked closely with the Mississippi Secretary of State’s office in recent years to strengthen the Mississippi Uniform Agent Act. As always, we will do our due diligence to evaluate any potential concerns.”