Alabama head coach Nick Saban may be the most powerful person within the Alabama sports department, but even he has a boss. Now, he will have a new boss.
Alabama Director of Athletics Bill Battle is stepping down into retirement from his current position, although he will remain active in the university as a special assistant to university president Stuart Bell. Battle has been fighting through health issues and completed treatment for cancer last summer. His vacant spot in the athletics department will be filled by Arizona Athletics Director Greg Byrne. A formal announcement has not been made as of yet, but multiple reports have confirmed the pending Byrne hiring. (UPDATE: Alabama has since formally announced the hiring of Byrne)
”Bill has done a tremendous job as director of athletics, and has accomplished so much during his career,” Bell said, according to the Associated Press. ”His business expertise, coupled with his coaching experience and his strong understanding of the role an athletic department has in the daily fabric of a university, has allowed us to achieve the great successes we have enjoyed during his tenure. We are blessed to have the continued benefit of his counsel.”
The hiring of Byrne takes Alabama outside its own foundation to bring in an outsider to lead the sports department. Byrne is an Idaho native who has worked in an administrative role in two SEC schools, so he will be familiar with the landscape the conference has to offer. Byrne was the athletics director of Mississippi State from 2008 through 2010 before moving to Arizona for the past six years. At Mississippi State, Byrne hired football coach Dan Mullen. Byrne also held an associate AD role at Kentucky, where he directed development and fundraising efforts for the Wildcats.
A disassociated booster is allegedly selling Alabama memorabilia with signatures of players from the 2013 team including AJ McCarron and TJ Yeldon, which could be classified as an NCAA violation. The sale of the memorabilia may also be a violation of the terms outlined in a disassociation letter, although at this point in time there is no concrete evidence to support that. Regardless, Alabama is aware of the situation and issued a response Thursday night to address it.
“We are aware of the story produced today,” Alabama athletics director Bill Battle said. “As part of our ongoing compliance efforts, our compliance department looks into everything that warrants concern. That effort is diligent and all-encompassing, and requires constant communication and education regarding all potential issues.
As Outkick the Coverage reports T-Town Gallery is owned by Tom Albetar, who was previously disassociated from Alabama’s athletic program after questionable merchandise was put on sale at a previous store and location. According to the report game-worn jerseys and signatures were among the many items available for sale with current or recent Alabama football players. The sale of this merchandise would be a direct violation of one of the requests issued to Albetar when he was informed of Alabama’s decision to end the relationship.
As AL.com notes, Albetar was specifically asked not to obtain any items of memorabilia from student-athletes and autographs from student-athletes while they are in the store. And there is your gray area.
For the NCAA to slam Alabama with any possible sanctions, they will need to gather concrete evidence proving current Alabama players signed items in exchange for money. If the Johnny Manziel episode from last summer is any indication, that can be difficult to prove.