When I read of the Cam Newton pay-for-play allegations, it's hard for me not to feel the ghosts of Albert Means lurking somewhere in the shadows. Now, from the outset, I'm not going to declare that all of the allegations made so far are true, or that all of the reasonable inferences that can be made from the current allegations are also true, but I do think it's fair to say that if the allegations regarding Newton are true, for better or for worse, the only real comparison can be the Albert Means scandal.
Having said that, I do think it is at least somewhat instructive to look back on the Means scandal all these years later and take a second pass at what all occurred and what all that scandal revealed about the inner workings of big-time college football. With that in mind, let's go back to the SEC of about ten years ago.
Now, from the outset, the Albert Means scandal probably needs no real introduction on an Alabama blog, but just to discuss this in its entirely let's hit the basic overview of what happened. In its most basic form, Alabama booster Logan Young paid a six-figure sum to Lynn Lang, the head coach of Albert Means, to steer his star recruit to Tuscaloosa, with Lang intending to split the money he received from Young with his assistant Milton Kirk. As it came to pass, though, Lang cut Kirk off from the money flow, eventually inducing Kirk to spill the beans first to the NCAA and later the Memphis Commercial Appeal. Despite a great deal of investigation by various federal and state agencies, no great amount of hard evidence surfaced to support the allegations, but nevertheless Alabama was hammered by the NCAA and Young was later convicted based almost entirely on the allegations made by Lang and Kirk.
But if you are going to legitimately believe what Lang and Kirk had to say, there were actually a lot of violations made by a lot of schools that ultimately did not win the Means sweepstakes, and years later a civil lawsuit revealed even more than most could have ever imagined.
Start with the official visits, which were not free. It was apparently pay-for-play even for the right of wining-and-dining Means on your campus. Milton Kirk did not mince words in the aftermath, if there was no money fronted, there was no visit, period. Three of Means' five allotted visits were made -- to Alabama, Kentucky, and Georgia -- and the visits required payment of 4,000 to 6,000 dollars. Those payments were made, allegedly by Logan Young ('Bama), Bill Harper (Georgia), and an unidentified booster (Kentucky).
And that was just over official visits. For his actual signature, the bidding went higher and higher.
Georgia made their way into the mix, allegedly with the aforementioned Bill Harper, a Georgia booster from Memphis. Harper inevitably denied the allegations, claiming he was a small-time businessman with no money, but he did admit that he had lunch in Memphis with Lang and Georgia assistant coach Leon Perry -- the coach who recruited Means for Georgia -- to discuss the recruitment of Means. Moreover, Lang also alleged that Georgia head coach Jim Donnan gave him 700 dollars to work a camp in Athens. According to Lang, Donnan tried to round up the money for Means' signature until the closing minutes before he ultimately signed on the dotted line, and that Donnan talked to him by phone several times in the final week before National Signing Day.
Kentucky entered the battle largely with the help of recruiting coordinator Claude Bassett. He arranged a meeting with Lang and Kirk in a Lexington hotel before a Kentucky basketball game where an unidentified Kentucky booster gave him an envelope with 6,000 dollars enclosed in it to pay for the official visit. After that exchange, Kentucky continued to bid for Means' signature, and another 1,000 dollars was given to Lang for working a camp. In the end, Lang said Bassett continued to try to round up money for Means' signature until Kentucky landed Dewayne Robertson from nearby Melrose High -- a future top five NFL Draft pick in his own right -- at which point he pulled out of the bidding war for Means. Not coincidentally, Bassett was later fired after, among other things, he admitted to sending 1,400 dollars to Melrose head coach Tim Thompson.
And, if you believe the tale that Lynn Lang ultimately told, not only was Ole Miss in on the bidding, they were the ones who actually started the whole damn thing, planting the seeds of hope in Lang's mind that indeed he could formulate a pay-for-play scheme. It was Ole Miss assistant coach Kurt Roper -- who, after a three-year stint in Knoxville working under Phil Fulmer, was new to the scene after the Rebels hired David Cutcliffe in the wake of Tommy Tuberville leaving for Auburn -- that tracked down Lang and wanted to know precisely what it would take financially to get Means to sign:
"He [Kurt Roper] said, 'Coach, I need to know exactly what it's going to take financially to get Means so that I can take it back to my people. I just told him a house and two cars, and he said that wouldn't be a problem.
Lang talked to each of the [Ole Miss] coaches when that day was done. All of them, he said, indicated that they'd be willing to do "whatever it takes" to get Means.
Arkansas was also firmly in the mix. Arkansas assistant coaches Fitz Hill and Danny Nutt -- brother of head coach Houston Nutt -- recruited Means, and together they met with Lang at his Memphis apartment, where Lang informed them that the price tag was 200,000 dollars. Lang later claimed that Fitz offered him a job as defensive line coach for the Razorbacks and that he would place 80,000 dollars in cash in a bag and leave it for Lang under a bridge at an unspecified location. Later in an interview with NCAA investigator Richard Johanningmeier, Hill essentially confirmed the allegations, and admitted that he told Lang that "Arkansas did not have a problem with the request." The involvement by Arkansas in the bidding war is even more hypocritical in light of the fact that Judge Steve Wilson -- the judge who presided over Cottrell v. NCAA -- detailed in his book that it was not Tennessee, but Arkansas that originally turned Alabama in for allegedly paying for Albert Means.
Lang also alleged that Memphis, the home city school, eventually got in on the bidding as well, though it seems their limited budget reduced the amount of their bid. Lang claimed that Memphis head coach Rip Scherer himself directly offered free law school tuition for Lang's wife at the University of Memphis School of Law.
Meanwhile, in Knoxville, Phil Fulmer had been busy sending out memo after memo to SEC commissioner Roy Kramer, blaming Alabama for damn near everything from the crucifixion of Christ to the Holocaust. He bemoaned the supposed cheating ways of Bear Bryant, the influence of Logan Young on Memphis-area recruits, and made allegations that Alabama practically bought every player imaginable. He also claimed some off-the-wall things, like that Tennessee booster Roy Adams was a "queer," and that then-Ole Miss coach Tommy Tuberville looked the other way on the pay-for-play violations because he wanted the Alabama job:
"Roy Adams is a queer who associates with anyone who will hang around him from any school anywhere. He has been disassociated from any contact with our program for the whole time I've been the head coach and well before that."
"He [Tommy Tuberville] won't talk about Logan because he wants the Alabama job. Logan likes Tommy and will let Tommy "keep a few."
For a concrete example, here is the infamous "FOR YOUR EYES ONLY!!!" memo he sent to Kramer on May 20th, 1998, where he alleges, among other things, that Logan Young bought Freddie Milons, Kendall Moorehead, and Eric Locke, and speculating that Young was buying David Payne and Santonio Beard:
In the end, despite being an early participant in the pay-for-play negotiations, Tennessee did not recruit Means, and we later found out why. Early in the recruiting process, Tennessee assistant coach Pat Washington -- who was the starting quarterback for Auburn in the mid-1980's, including during the 1985 Iron Bowl -- recruited Means for the Volunteers, and Lynn Lang sensed his desperation. Early on, anyway, with Washington making the early offers, Tennessee was in the bidding process as well.
"He told me his job was on the line and that he needed Means because he had lost David Paine and Kindal Moorehead to Alabama. The first amount he talked about was $50,000, and then $75,000. But this was about the same time they had all that academic stuff [the Linda Bensel-Meyers allegations] going on, so I think he got cold feet."
With that, Tennessee backed away and did not actively recruit Means. But they didn't just fade away, they blew the whistle on Lang.
And what about the SEC? What if I told you that they knew about the whole thing all along? Well, believe it or not, they did.
The SEC, in fact, had actually been conducting their own investigation of Logan Young for quite some time. As evidenced by a June 23rd, 1998 memo from SEC investigator Bill Sievers, a former FBI agent, to Roy Kramer, Sievers had begun actively investigating Logan Young and keeping Kramer up-to-date on his findings, and also hired a private investigator -- Ed Bradberry -- to assist him in the investigation. Among other things, Kramer wanted to know whether or not Young was using casinos to funnel money to prospective recruits (sound familiar?). In the course of his investigation, Sievers gave Bradberry the task of, among other things, going through Young's garbage outside his home, getting a security contact at the Horseshoe Casino in Tunica (where Young was known to frequent), following Young to his hangouts and overhearing conversations, and obtaining the copy of an incident report relating to the arrest of Young's son.
The following year, on July 26th, 1999, more than six full months before National Signing Day, Sievers informed Kramer in the following memo that, per the information provided to him by Pat Washington, Lynn Lang was attempting to sell Albert Means in a pay-for-play scheme.
Armed with this knowledge, did the SEC inform Alabama, and presumably other SEC schools? No. Instead, as per the memo, the SEC strategy was to have Washington continue recruiting Means and then possibly at a later date have Washington record his conversations with Lang so that he may be prosecuted for extortion and bribery:
"Coach Lang's actions amount to soliciting a bribe and extortion. We have the opportunity to have Washington tape record his conversations and have law enforcement authorities prosecute Lang. While this may sound harsh, I believe it will put a stop to high school coaches soliciting money from SEC coaches and send a strong message to others."
Anybody up for one of those, "SEC! SEC! SEC!" chants right about now?
And, in the end, even Albert Means himself turned out not to be the innocent prey that was long claimed. He was portrayed throughout the entire NCAA investigation, as well as the Logan Young trial, as a victim, an otherwise oblivious kid who had known nothing but poverty while the man he trusted the most betrayed him and sold him by the pound to the highest bidder in a modern day slave market while he and his family struggled to merely survive on the tough streets of Memphis. The story that his mother was making minimum wage while supporting a family of six with no knowledge whatsoever of the pay-for-play scheme was told time and again. As it turned out, however, Means was just as crooked as anyone else involved in this circus. Years later he testified and confirmed that he never took the ACT, and that Lang arranged for another student to take it for him, thus paving the way for him to qualify academically when in all honesty he should have likely never been allowed to set foot on an SEC campus. Finally, after Logan Young had been convicted by a jury, but before his sentencing, Lynn Lang came out and admitted that he had given Means and his family approximately 60,000 dollars in his final two years of high school. When later asked by the Commercial Appeal whether or not he actually received any money, Means refused to deny it, and uttered the following mind-numbing statement before hanging up the telephone:
"Is a tomato a fruit or a vegetable? I don't know."
Years later when all of the dust had settled, Cecil Hurt said it best:
"This was no crusade. There seems to have been no real victims and far more perpetrators than the NCAA was willing to prosecute."
The point of all of this is that, much like the Albert Means scandal, there is probably a hell of a lot more going on than what initially meets the eye with the Cam Newton saga. It's rarely as simple as school x payed player y amount z. Or, as the allegations of this case dictate to this point, father x solicited school y for the signature of player z. It did not seem that way at first with Means, and some may think it does not seem that way with Newton now, but when the dust settles that will likely prove to be as true regarding Newton as it did with Means.
And I'm no grand conspiracy theorist, mind you. There are no black helicopters circling outside your house, nor did the gub'ment put fluoride in the water to control all of our minds. But it doesn't take a conspiracy theorist to see how that beneath those endless SEC chants are twelve member institutions whose interests are often divergent, who are constantly competing with one another tooth and nail for the tiniest bit competitive advantage -- never kid yourself, football is a zero-sum game, I can only win if you lose -- and that the SEC office itself can have an agenda of its own and does not always live up to its self-proclaimed purpose of assisting its member institutions in the maintenance of their athletics programs.
For the Cam Newton saga, what really happened and what is really transpiring within the SEC and its member institutions? No one can say that with any degree of certainty at the moment, and on some level we may never know. Had it not been for two high school coaches talking to everyone who would listen and Tommy Gallion filing a civil lawsuit, we would have never found out all that we know about the Albert Means scandal, and it will probably take an inside source who played a key role in the Newton recruitment to come out publicly with that same kind of zeal for us to find out what really drove Cam Newton to sign with Auburn. Having established that, though, if history is any guide, what is going on behind the scenes of the Cam Newton saga, past and present, probably is not nearly as simple and straightforward as many would lead you to believe.