Regarding Marcell Dareus, from the outset let us just begin by stating what we don't know. We don't know if Dareus accepted any illegal benefits, and even if he did accept some illegal benefits, we don't know the value of those benefits. We also don't know if the NCAA is currently investigating Dareus, though as of noon yesterday the NCAA had not requested to speak with Dareus. For now, all we really know is that UA athletic department officials are investigating whether Marcell Dareus attended an agent's party in South Beach, and, if so, how that trip was funded. Also, as an additional precautionary measure, UA compliance is also trying to determine if any other Alabama football players attended the party, and if so how their trips were funded.
For now, regardless of the Internet meltdowns, that is all that we definitively know. Anything more than that at this point is pure speculation. Above and beyond anything else written by me (or anyone else), that basic understanding should be kept in mind.
Now, moving forward, from an institutional perspective UA compliance will be proactive as possible on this. That much we know for certain. We've had an activist compliance department since the botching of the Antonio Langham affair many years ago, and they certainly won't shy away from asking the tough questions now. Dareus will be asked point blank by UA compliance if he accepted any benefits from anyone, what was the value of any benefits he received (if any), if he attended the party in South Beach, and (if applicable) what mode of transportation he took to Miami and how it was paid for. Moreover, Dareus will also be asked to provide receipts to validate his claims if he denies that anything improper took place. Furthermore, as a measure of due diligence, UA compliance will also attempt to determine if any other Alabama football players accepted illegal benefits, and anyone arousing suspicion will be subject to the same scrutiny that Dareus will receive.
With all of that established, however, here is the harsh reality from point blank range: Amateur athletes cannot accept anything of value from agents, marketers, or financial advisors (among others), including but not limited to cash, food, travel, lodging, automobiles, and real property. And if any athlete does accept any of those things, that athlete's eligibility is put in jeopardy. If Dareus did accept something, anything... his eligibility is in jeopardy.
Of course, not all extra benefits cases are created equal. If the value of the benefits received is great, the player in question can effectively kiss goodbye to his remaining eligibility. On the other hand, if the benefits are of lesser value then the player may regain his eligibility by paying restitution. In fact, players can at times avoid missing any games by paying restitution in a timely manner (as was the case with Julio Jones and Mark Ingram a year ago).
At this point, it all goes back to what we don't know. Obviously if Dareus accepted illegal benefits with a very high value, he may lose the remainder of his eligibility and thus miss the entire 2010 season. But we don't know anything of the sort happened (and in fact we have absolutely no real evidence whatsoever leading us to believe that may be the case). And on the other hand, perhaps Dareus took nothing illegally, perhaps he paid his own way to South Beach. Or, perhaps, Dareus received a free flight and hotel for a couple of days, at which point he could possibly pay restitution and never miss a snap. Furthermore, this could potentially include several players -- Lord knows we have the raw talent on hand to make every agent in the country start drooling -- but as with Dareus himself we have absolutely no evidence whatsoever now that would lead us to believe that. Again, it all goes back to what we don't know, and at this point it must say that we actually know very, very little.
Now, I do know that Marcell Dareus does have a relationship with Marvin Austin, who is arguably the player at the very center of the UNC investigation. When Dareus came out of Huffman as a recruit in 2008, he picked Alabama over North Carolina and Auburn, and the general consensus then was that the Tarheels came in a close second. Dareus' mother -- who recently passed away -- actually wanted her son to sign with UNC (don't know why exactly, in all honesty), and when Dareus took an official visit to Chapel Hill in January of 2008 he quickly became friends with Austin. From what I can tell, they have been relatively close acquaintances ever since. Of course, though, that doesn't mean Dareus did anything wrong here (and in all fairness to Austin, it is not a definite that he did something wrong either).
Again, the reality of the matter is that we just don't have anywhere near enough information at this point. Admittedly this could be something major for Dareus, but by the same token it could be a complete non-issue. We simply don't know.
Until we do have more substantive knowledge, however, lay off Dareus. In an earlier comment I urged readers to step back from the ledge, but to those who want to prematurely throw Dareus under the bus, then please by all means jump. As an institution UA itself is with little doubt shielded from any potential wrongdoing (if any) on his part, given the quick action by UA compliance and the fact that he has not played in any games while ineligible, so rest assured that he has far more to lose here than we do. At the highest levels of the NFL Draft, which Dareus will certainly find himself come next April, even dropping a handful of spots can cost a player millions of guaranteed dollars, and potentially missing his junior season at Alabama would almost uncertainly cost Dareus that much and perhaps more. If he is a top five pick in the 2011 NFL Draft, he'll get roughly 30 million guaranteed, but if he takes a Dez Bryant-esque slide into the latter half of the first round, he'll get about 10 million, thus a potential mistake now could cost him in upwards of 20 million dollars. Again, he has far more to lose here than we do.
And furthermore, who are we if we turn against one of our own before allowing due process to run its course? And not just anyone, but Marcell Dareus of all people? Even if the absolute worst case scenario is true and Dareus is never again allowed to suit up in crimson and white, he will leave a lasting impact on Alabama football in a way that even most other Alabama legends cannot only dream. Without Marcell Dareus there is no thirteenth national championship, at least not in 2009. More than any other individual player, it was he that was responsible for the victory over Texas. It was Dareus that knocked out McCoy, it was Dareus that made the goal line stand, it was Dareus that had the interception returned for a touchdown, and it was likely even Dareus' late shift that caused Texas to miss the block of Eryk Anders in the waning seconds that ultimately secured the crystal ball. If nothing else, even if this is the end, we'll always have Pasadena, and that's no small consolation prize. Bottom line... Lay off Dareus, and if you cannot resist the urge, then by all means jump.