A few days before back-to-back defending national champion Alabama faces its biggest road test of the season, a series of allegations about agents and a former player appear to be a potential retrospective threat to the Tide's perch atop the college football world.
D.J. Fluker, a former Alabama All-America offensive tackle, is one of five SEC players linked to a YahooSports.com report that detailed payments from agents to Luther Davis, a former Alabama defensive end who allegedly was serving as a go-between.
If proven true, the allegations against Fluker and former Tennessee quarterback Tyler Bray, current Vols defensive lineman Maurice Couch and former Mississippi State players Fletcher Cox and Chad Bumphis, would be NCAA violations that could threaten their eligibility during their college career.
If schools play ineligible players, they normally are required to forfeit the games in which those players participated. For Tennessee and Mississippi State, that would mean rewriting the record books for seasons that ranged from forgettable to mediocre, respectively.
For coach Nick Saban's Alabama team, that would mean rewriting history and potentially having to give back the 2012 national championship, which was won with the help of Fluker and a dominating offensive line.
Each school issued statements saying they would investigate the report and the actions of the players and the program.
Yahoo's report surfaced Wednesday afternoon, drawing eyes from across the country and ire from Saban, who refused to discuss the report beyond his opening statement at a news conference as the top-ranked Tide prepare for a trip Saturday to No. 6-ranked Texas A&M.
Saban said the university will "handle the situation appropriately."
"For as many high-profile players as we've had around here, I'm fairly pleased with the way most of them, for the most part, have managed their circumstances and their situation and focused on what they need to do for the University of Alabama," he said before becoming agitated with the questions and storming away from the podium.
The Yahoo report named three NFL agents and three financial advisers who Yahoo said engaged in transactions totaling at least $45,550 with Davis between September 2011 and December 2012. Davis, who played on Alabama's 2009 national championship team, declined to comment in the Yahoo report.
Yahoo said records show Davis distributing at least $12,700 in cash, airfare and other expenses to the five players. The report included a 49-item invoice totaling $33,755 from February 2013 that Davis emailed to Fluker's onetime financial adviser, Hodge Brahmbhatt.
Agents Andy Simms, Peter Schaffer and John Phillips and financial adviser Mike Rowan each confirmed giving money to Davis, according to Yahoo, but said they didn't instruct the former player to provide benefits to players, and didn't know of him doing so. The transactions could violate NCAA rules prohibiting benefits from agents or representatives.
Southern California received heavy sanctions for improper benefits to Heisman Trophy-winning tailback Reggie Bush, including a two-year bowl ban, four years of probation, 30 lost scholarships and 14 vacated victories. The heavy NCAA sanctions against USC were in large part because the NCAA determined there were coaches and people within the USC program that were complicit with getting Bush extra benefits.
"We have been aware of some of the allegations in today's story and our compliance department was looking into this situation prior to being notified that this story was actually going to be published," Alabama athletic director Bill Battle said. "Our review is ongoing. We diligently educate our student-athletes on maintaining compliance with NCAA rules, and will continue to do so."
Tennessee athletic department spokesman Jimmy Stanton also said the university emphasizes rules compliance.
"The education of our student-athletes regarding NCAA rules and extra benefits is and will continue to be the central focus of our compliance efforts," Stanton said. "We are aware of the article and are examining all of the relevant facts, and we will not comment further."
Tennessee coach Butch Jones said on his weekly radio show Wednesday night he could only comment on what had taken place since he took over the program in December
"All I can tell you is this," Jones said, "we're well aware of [the report.] We've been educating our players since the minute we walked in the door, and we'll see what happens."