A rough couple of weeks on the field for the SEC got worse Wednesday when a Yahoo Sports report implicated five former SEC players for receiving impermissible benefits prior to the conclusion of their collegiate careers. At the center of the report is another former SEC player, Alabama defensive lineman Luther Davis, who reportedly acted as a “middle man” in the transactions.
The former players named include offensive lineman D.J. Fluker (Alabama), quarterback Tyler Bray (Tennessee), defensive end Maurice Couch (Tennessee), defensive end Fletcher Cox (Mississippi State), and wide receiver Chad Bumphis (Mississippi State).
According to the report, Davis served as a go-between for the players and NFL agents and financial advisors. In addition to the communications, at least $45,500 of benefits were allegedly received by the players.
The University of Alabama, due to its status at the top of the college football world, its recent national championship, and the profile of Fluker will likely, rightly or wrongly, receive the most scrutiny stemming from the resulting investigation. The school is reportedly prepared.
“Our compliance department was looking into this situation prior tobeing notified that this story was actually going to be published,”said the university’s Athletic Director, Bill Battle, in a statement. “Our review is ongoing. We diligentlyeducate our student-athletes on maintaining compliance with NCAA rules,and will continue to do so.”
Whether or not that investigation was prompted by a controversial tweet from Fluker prior to the NFL Draft is unclear. The tweet read, “Yea I took $ n college so wat. I did wat I had to do. Agents was tryin to pimp me so I pimped them. Cast da 1st stone.”
There is certainly a possibility that the entire investigation could amount to nothing, as it did when ESPN and HBO made similar allegations about Auburn University. However, Kevin Scarbinsky of AL.com raised a more daunting possibility given the well-documented nature of the report saying, “that story raises the disturbing possibility that Fluker could be to Alabama what Bush was to USC. A player who helped win a national title and then helped lose it because he couldn’t wait until he left school to get paid.”
Whether or not the story turns out to be a baseless witch hunt or something that could deliver a serious blow to the Alabama football program remains to be seen. However, the story will have three sub plots worth following.
First, the story could have an immediate effect on Saturday’s game between Alabama and Texas A&M. Nick Saban was furious with reporters and stormed off the stage when no questions were asked about the game, and this story is sure to be a cloud hanging over the program until it is resolved. With the most important game in their quest for a three-peat just days away, the timing could not be worse for the Crimson Tide.
Secondly, the story will tell us a lot about the state of the NCAA. Many of its investigators are gone, its leader, Mark Emmert, has been accused of giving Saban, the man he hired at LSU, a pass previously, and its reputation has been hit hard due to the Ed O’Bannon lawsuit, the Johnny Manziel saga, and how it has handled crucial investigations at Miami and Penn State.
Finally, it could be a dividing point between ESPN and their new challenger, Fox Sports 1. The “Worldwide Leader in Sports” has been seen as too cozy with the SEC, and Alabama in particular, so one might expect that it may not pursue it with expected vigor. Fox Sports 1, on the other hand, may make this a feature story as they look to distinguish themselves from their entrenched competition.