Paul Bryant Jr. (Alabama) and Bobby Lowder (Auburn) have been the real power brokers behind the programs. Both have deep ties to the financial industry, both have served as university trustees, and both have given money and made decisions that turned UA and AU into national powers--long before Nick Saban or Gene Chizik arrived on the scene.
UA fans today are heaping adulation on Trent Richardson, A.J. McCarron, Courtney Upshaw, and other Crimson Tide stars. AU fans are dreaming about the exploits last year of Cam Newton, Nick Fairley, Mike Dyer, and other Tiger standouts--and wondering when Chizik will make another title run. (Memo to Gene: It had better be soon.)
That's the way it should be. Sports are meant to be a pleasant diversion--and it's certainly more pleasant when your team wins than when it loses.
But Alabamians should not be blinded by the fact that we've put our universities--and millions of public dollars--in the hands of people like Paul Bryant Jr. and Bobby Lowder.
As we have reported here on numerous occasions, Bryant and one of his companies, Alabama Reassurance, have unmistakable ties to an insurance-fraud scheme that netted a 15-year federal prison sentence for a Pennsylvania lawyer/entrepreneur named Allen W. Stewart. The mainstream press in our state has happily ignored the story, and that's probably the way our citizens want it--as long as the national titles keep rolling in.
Lowder, the former CEO of Colonial Bancgroup, was a prominent player in the largest bank collapse of 2009. A Florida man named Lee Bentley Farkas has been sentenced to 30 years in federal prison for his role in the failure of Colonial Bank.
Alabamians like to keep score, so let's check the scoreboard on the financial dealings of the money men behind UA and AU football: Paul Bryant Jr. and his company conducted business with a man who is serving a 15-year federal prison sentence; Bobby Lowder and his company conducted business with a man who is headed to the federal slammer for 30 years.
College football fans in Alabama should enjoy the glory while they can. If federal authorities ever take a close look at the money flowing in and out of the two programs--and the sources from which it comes--it could all take a mighty tumble.