I am not, nor have I ever claimed to be, an insider. I don't have connections. I don't have any special knowledge of this situation, but I do know one thing:
Julio Jones and Mark Ingram are going to play on Saturday.
This isn't denial, it's just a reasonable assertion backed by -- literally -- every fact out there right now.
Now, I could be wrong. It has happened before -- I think it was a Tuesday -- and we are talking about the NCAA, an entity that is known for some of the most bizarre decisions ever to come out of a bureaucracy. The fact of the matter, though, is that there is just nothing to suggest that Jones and Ingram won't take the field.
First, the quote that has everyone stirred up into a tizzy:
"I think that is up to the NCAA," Saban said Wednesday. "I don't think it's my decision to do anything. We are hoping for a response, and we want to do what we need to do to do things the right way, from a program standpoint and for the players' best interest."
The thing that perpetually amazes me about reporters is their seeming inability to parse words. Despite hearing coach speak every day, especially from Saban, they still leap to conclusions, assuming Saban is giving them all of the information he has. (The cynic in me asserts that they knew they would get a ton of hits from SEC fans by spinning the story this way.)
Take the assumptions away. What did Saban actually say? That it's up to the NCAA. He's right. The NCAA could rule pretty much any player in the country ineligible tomorrow morning, and there would be very little in the way of immediate recourse.
What he didn't say was that he expected the NCAA to rule against the players or that he would bench them if the NCAA hadn't concluded its investigation.
Okay, fine, so what do we know?
We know that this has been an issue that has been at the forefront for quite a while. We also know that, despite that, Ingram and Jones have been getting the starter's share of reps at their respective positions.
We know that our compliance department is in frequent and regular (probably daily) contact with the NCAA. We know that the NCAA was consulted during our investigation, and that they were able to provide feedback to our athletic department.
We also know that we have one of the most gun-shy and capitulating compliance departments in all of the NCAA. This is, mostly, a good thing. The odds of the NCAA having ever found out about the textbook scandal absent our self-reporting of it are almost nil. Our compliance department tends to find issues, err on the side of caution, and they do a pretty good job of picking their own switch.
If even our compliance department, after consulting with the NCAA, didn't find any violation (even a secondary violation), you have to ask: what is the likelihood that the NCAA will come back and declare a major infraction?
To that end, what would it take to put Ingram and Jones on the bench on Saturday?
- It would require the NCAA to declare that Anderson is a "representative" of the University's athletic interests: that he's a booster.
- It would require the NCAA to declare that the fishing trip was given on the basis of Jones' and Ingram's status as football players.
- It would require the NCAA to find that the value of that fishing trip was over $100 per player.
- It would require that the NCAA then decide that suspension was the appropriate punishment, and that the punishment must be served prior to reinstatement.
If even one of those things doesn't happen (and our compliance department doesn't think any of them will happen, let alone all four), Jones and Ingram suit up in Atlanta Saturday night.
So, in the strictest sense, Saban is saying "Yeah, the NCAA could come back tomorrow and deem the guys ineligible. I don't have any control over that." He's absolutely right. But he's also saying it's up to the NCAA, which we can reasonably infer to mean that our own compliance department doesn't have any issue with letting the guys play.
Certainly we'd all be much more comfortable with the situation if the NCAA would just decide "Yeah, we coo," but we shouldn't assume that not hearing from them automatically means that Jones and Ingram will be on the sidelines.
If the NCAA drops a bomb on us in the latter half of this week, then we can freak out. Until such time, however, continue to repeat this mantra: Julio and Ingram will play. The fishing trip is a non-issue.