Before the legendary coach started winning national championships with the Crimson Tide, the Alabama football program nearly got shut down entirely. As it turns out, a criminal scheme involving $150,000 and a phony ACT test almost resulted in the NCAA having to implement the death penalty.
Luckily for the school—and by extension, Saban—that never happened. Nearly two decades later, the infamous Albert Means scandal seems so inconsequential. Perhaps winning six national titles will make people forget about a story that could have had a far worse ending for the Alabama football program.
The Crimson Tide won the battle to sign Albert Means
A Memphis native, Albert Means dominated as a defensive tackle at Trezevant High School. In his senior season, he earned the state’s Mr. Football award. Considered to be one of the top overall recruits in the country, the talented prospect generated interest from every school imaginable.
Of course, the University of Alabama football program had its eyes on the prized defensive lineman out of The Volunteer State.
At the time, the Crimson Tide had gone through a fairly recent coaching change. Gene Stallings served as the team’s head coach from 1990-96—a period that included winning a national title in 1992. Mike DuBose became the next man in charge of Alabama football and went 4-7 in his first season at the helm in 1997.
However, the Tide improved to 7-5 the following year. And in 1999, they went 10-3 and finished eighth in the final rankings.
With the program seemingly on the verge of getting back to a championship level, it made sense for Alabama to aggressively pursue a defensive lineman who many expected to play in the NFL one day.
Ultimately, the school landed a commitment from one of the nation’s most highly-hyped recruits.
That turned out to be a disaster for all parties…and others.
Exposing a criminal scheme that helped land the prized recruit
Mention Albert Means’ name and no one will bring up a single play he made on the field. Instead, anyone familiar with the history of the Alabama football program will remember him as the centerpiece of a story that involved the NCAA nearly handing down the death penalty due to a criminal scheme that got exposed in court.
On Feb. 3, 2005, The Washington Post reported that Logan Young was found guilty of conspiracy to commit racketeering, crossing state lines to commit racketeering, and arranging bank withdrawals to cover up a crime. As it turns out, the Alabama booster played a heavy hand in Means signing with the Crimson Tide.
Federal prosecutors said Young paid former Trezevant High School coach Lynn Lang $150,000 in cash payments during a 15-month period in 1999 and 2000.
Why would he shell out such a substantial sum of money?
To secure Means’ commitment, of course.
In addition, Lang testified that representatives of at least three other schools offered him cash, law school tuition for his wife, or coaching jobs all in an effort to land a high-school recruit who ironically failed to make much of an impact once he got to college. Prosecutors said Lang attempted to sell Means to at least eight schools, including Georgia, Arkansas, and Tennessee.
At the trial, more details emerged about the criminal scheme that helped bring one of the best football players in the state of Tennessee to Alabama.
In fact, Means exposed a secret about how he even qualified to get into the school.
During a testimony he gave the week prior, Means said he never actually took the ACT test needed for college admission. Instead, he admitted that Lang arranged for another student to take the test for him.
Overall, the entire scandal resulted in not only legal action against Young and Lang, but also harsh penalties for the Alabama football program.
Alabama football faced the death penalty over the Means case
The Albert Means scandal ended up being a big setback for the University of Alabama. But the program’s problems dated back to well before the former Tennessee high-school star came to Tuscaloosa.
In fact, his case represented the fourth for the SEC powerhouse in a 14-year period. Given Alabama’s repeated violations, the NCAA could have exerted the ultimate punishment: the death penalty.
Only Southern Methodist University suffered that fate before when the program got shut down in 1987.
However, despite being eligible for the death penalty, Alabama escaped that outcome. According to NOLA.com, Tom Yeager, who was the NCAA infractions committee chairman at the time, said that never would have happened without the persistence of Gene Marsh (a prominent attorney) and Marie Robbins (Alabama’s compliance director).
“Gene and Marie did everything they could, short of patrolling the campus with semi-automatic weapons,” Yeager told Dennis Dodd of CBS Sports. “That, at the end of the day, is what saved them.”
Ultimately, the program did pay dearly for committing so many violations.
In February 2002, the NCAA implemented a five-year probation, a two-year ban on postseason bowls, and the loss of 21 scholarships over the ensuing three years, according to The Baltimore Sun.
“There is no question that Alabama was staring down the barrel of a gun,” Yeager said at the time of the decision. “Had there been a different approach, there was a clear legislative opportunity to impose the death penalty.”