DELAY OF GAME
It's almost the opening of the college football season, and that means -- what else? -- recruiting scandals. Or recycled recruiting scandals to be more specific.
Does anyone remember Albert Means? Means is the overweight, overrated defensive lineman who huffed and puffed his way through part of seven games last season at the University of Memphis before being declared academically ineligible before the start of this season.
His real claim to fame, of course, is being the "recruiting prize" in the Lynn Lang and Milton Kirk auction two years ago that got Lang and Kirk indicted, convinced Means to transfer from Alabama to U of M, and put Alabama booster Logan Young on the hot seat for allegedly paying or agreeing to pay (the accusers are not sure) either $115,000 or $200,000 (the accusers are not sure) to Lang and Kirk or maybe just Lang (the accusers are not sure) to enlist the talents, such as they were, of Means at Alabama.
Follow all that so far?
This was the week, or one of them anyway, that Lang was supposed to go on trial in federal court in Memphis on charges of conspiracy, bribery, and extortion. In June, U.S. District Judge Bernice Donald set a "firm and final date of August 19 for the trial, which had been postponed before.
But there was no trial August 19, and a call to the U.S. Attorney's office in Memphis yielded the information that it has been postponed until possibly September, but nobody is sure. That would put it in the thick of the first month of football season, making it difficult to assemble all the college coaches on the witness list who are apparently prepared to testify that Lang tried to shake them down. A trial date is to be set on August 22.
The case of Albert Means has now outlasted the career of Albert Means.
It has been a full year since Lang, the former coach at Trezevant High School, was indicted. It has been nearly two years since the Means story broke in a book called Bragging Rights: A Season Inside the SEC, College Football's Toughest Conference
, by University of Tennessee alumnus Richard Ernsberger, Jr. And it has been three years since Ernsberger did his research while Means was still playing for Trezevant.
Young has not been indicted and has consistently stated that he did not pay Lang or Kirk any money. Lang isn't talking. Kirk made the $200,000 accusation to The Commercial Appeal
shortly after the publication of Ernsberger's book. In his understated way, Kirk called it "modern-day slave trading." He pled guilty to a conspiracy count but hasn't been sentenced.
But there is still a lot of interest in the story in the national media and, possibly, in the prosecutor's office. The standard theory is that the feds are working on a deal with Lang to get him to testify against Young. If so, Lang is one tough nut, or the supporting evidence could be hard to find.
The problem with that theory is that the NCAA has already raked over the case in its investigation of Alabama. And Alabama has done its own investigation. The college gumshoes, who don't have the resources or powers of the FBI, concluded that Young and Lang were up to no good and put 'Bama on probation for five years. Young was disassociated by the university and rendered notorious in the media.
This week, the Atlanta Journal Constitution
devoted nearly a full page to a rehash of the Means story. Poor Logan Young can't catch a break. The story describes him as "the son of a man whose father was a friend of Bear Bryant." Guess they're talking about his grandpappy. But Young himself was, if nothing else, a friend of Bryant and has the pictures to prove it. The newspaper says Young "agreed to pay Lang $115,000 to ensure that Means signed with Alabama."
So which is it? Agreeing to pay someone and paying someone are as different as agreeing to kill someone and killing someone. The Commercial Appeal
, citing Milton Kirk, says Young paid Lang $200,000, no ifs ands or buts about it. Then there is the Los Angeles Times
, which wrote on August 31, 2001, "Alabama booster and Memphis businessman Logan Young has admitted paying them $200,000 for the services of defense lineman Albert Means."
Young has done no such thing, but some papers can't be bothered with facts. If Young is telling the truth, the statement is libelous. But Young's record of following through on libel threats is not good. He publicly threatened to sue University of Tennessee booster Roy Adams after the charges broke in Ernsberger s book but never did.
Ernsberger deftly profiled Adams and Young, but his sourcing was weak for the most serious charges. His key accuser is identified only as "an individual who knows Logan Young (and) knows the Alabama football program." The source has no first-hand knowledge or evidence of a payoff but says, "Yeah, he'd do it." Another source is "a Memphis businessman." And a UT partisan, perhaps?
It looked like the feds were going to clear all this up this week, but then came the news of another postponement. Maybe the FBI has better things to do, such as hunt terrorists or corporate criminals, than chase down slave traders. What the heck, kickoff is a week away, and the publicity about the Means case has as much deterrent effect as any courtroom verdict. Alabama is on probation. Lynn Lang is out of coaching. Albert Means looks like he may be out of football. And Logan Young has already been convicted in the media.