Members of the Alabama Crimson Tide wrote their names into college football history in 2009, by knocking off the Texas Longhorns to win the national championship. However, according to reports, they may have written their names in other places as well, in exchange for money.
A move that, if proven true, could put that national championship in jeopardy.
According to a Sports Illustrated story written by Luke Winn, former Tide players Terrence Cody and Marquis Wilson, are among those accused of having signed autographs for cash.
Winn’s story centers around Cliff Panezich and Adam Bollinger, two memorabilia dealers who became familiar with the Tide in 2009.
Panezich and Bollinger arrived in Tuscaloosa during winter break, when the football team wasn’t practicing, so finding players required improvisation. The first member of the Crimson Tide they say they encountered—and asked to sign, outside of a dorm—was cornerback Marquis Johnson. The two collectors had 40-odd white-paneled footballs, each emblazoned with Alabama’s logo, laid out in the rear bed of their SUV, and “[Johnson] signed a few,” Panezich says. “[He] talked about getting paid to do the rest. . . . We paid him up front and . . . he recruited everybody else to come and sign. He’d go into the dorm, grab a couple guys—$20, $30, $40, depending on who the player was—and they’d all come sign 40 team items.” Panezich says Johnson was paid roughly $200, but “not everyone took money. [Defensive tackle] Terrence Cody was probably the biggest. He got paid to sign all the team stuff—and then we heard he was interested in making some more money. So he came out and signed a bunch of mini helmets that he inscribed, like 2X ALL-AMERICAN, or 2 BLOCKED FGS AGAINST TENNESSEE, very specific stuff.” Panezich recalls that they paid Cody around $400 total. (SI obtained cellphone video from Panezich that shows Johnson, fellow cornerback Rod Woodson and tight end Colin Peek autographing items; Panezich says that Peek, as well as running back Ali Sharrief and QB Greg McElroy, signed but declined compensation in order to comply with NCAA rules. Cody, through his agent, declined to comment. Says Johnson: “I never got paid. I don’t know [Panezich].” Woodson could not be reached for comment. When asked if the school had knowledge of the signings, an Alabama spokesman said, in part, “As part of our comprehensive compliance and education program, we routinely review all situations of potential concern and address matters such as these with all of our student-athletes.”)
Like Oklahoma a few years ago, after the Reggie Bush scandal broke, if these allegations prove true, there will not likely be any celebrating in Austin. Alabama beat Texas on the football field, the same way USC beat Oklahoma.
However, if these accusations are accurate, this does put a stain on Alabama, a school that is no stranger to NCAA violations. Made even worse by the fact that the 2009 championship was head coach Nick Saban’s first championship with the Tide, and the school’s first since 1992.
The autograph incident won’t invalidate anything Alabama has done on the field since then, but it will bring unwanted attention and scrutiny to a program run by a man who likes neither attention nor scrutiny.
Especially the unwanted kind.