MEMPHIS, Feb. 2 -- Mere hours after high school seniors across the country made formal commitments to the colleges where they will play football in the fall, Logan Young became the first booster to be convicted of a crime for providing improper inducements to a recruit.
In a case that drew the attention of the NCAA and colleges across the country, Young was found guilty of conspiracy to commit racketeering (by breaking state bribery laws), crossing state lines to commit racketeering and arranging bank withdrawals to cover up a crime after he paid a Memphis high school coach $150,000 to ensure that the coach's star player would attend the University of Alabama in 2000.
Logan Young, right, in Memphis Monday with attorney Robert Hutton, was charged with paying a high school coach to steer his player to Alabama.
(Lance Murphey -- The Memphis Commercial Appeal Via Ap)
Testimony in the trial from college coaches and former Trezevant High School coach Lynn Lang shed new light on what cynics suspect is business as usual in football recruiting. Lang testified that representatives of at least three other schools offered him cash, law school tuition for his wife or coaching jobs in exchange for helping them get the recruit, all-American defensive lineman Albert Means.
"There are no heroes in this case," U.S. assistant district attorney Fred Godwin said. "Even the victims are flawed."
Federal prosecutors said Young gave Lang $150,000 in cash payments during a 15-month period in 1999 and 2000. In return, Lang steered Means toward the Crimson Tide. The case has already resulted in Alabama's football team being placed on five years' probation by the NCAA, and Lang and one of his assistant coaches pleading guilty to racketeering conspiracy.
"Some things are self-evident, and one of those things is that a high school teacher can't sell one of his children, and somebody like Logan Young can't buy him for the sole purpose of football," Godwin told the jury during his closing argument Tuesday. "It's signing day, ladies and gentlemen, and you know who paid Lynn Lang."
Young, 64, sat stoically Wednesday as the jury returned to a courtroom in the Clifford Davis Federal Building after 5½ hours of deliberations. He made no facial expressions as the jury foreman read the guilty verdict. The jury will decide Thursday morning whether Young must forfeit $150,000 to the government, and U.S. District Judge J. Daniel Breen will sentence Young at a later date. He faces up to 15 years in prison, though federal guidelines would call for a much lighter sentence.
A First and Maybe the Last
Since 1980, the NCAA infractions committee has levied penalties for impermissible recruiting inducements in 160 cases involving Division I men's basketball and football programs. The most severe case, until now, occurred in 1987, when the NCAA gave Southern Methodist University in Dallas the "death penalty," shutting down the Mustangs' football program for one year after the school made $61,000 in illegal payments to athletes from funds provided by boosters.
Ed Martin, a Michigan booster who admitted making $616,000 in loans to Wolverines basketball players Chris Webber, Robert Traylor, Maurice Taylor and Louis Bullock, pleaded guilty in May 2003 to conspiracy to launder money, but most of those charges stemmed from an illegal gambling ring. Martin died unexpectedly before he was sentenced.
In all those 160 cases, though, no individual was ever charged with breaking the law. Dan Beebe, senior associate commissioner of the Big 12 Conference and a former investigator and director of enforcement for the NCAA, said the possibility of criminal charges would probably deter most boosters from breaking NCAA rules in the future.
"I think it would make a lot of fellas who might want to go down that road think twice about it," Beebe said. "Previously, the only thing you could do with them was have the schools disassociate from the boosters. But if there's the possibility of criminal charges, I doubt people would ever be willing to go down that road again."
Alabama has severed its ties with Young, whose family made millions of dollars by inventing, of all things, the substance that turns margarine yellow. Young inherited Osceola Foods in Osceola, Ark., from his father, Logan Young Sr., a close friend of legendary Alabama football coach Paul "Bear" Bryant. Young once owned the Memphis Showboats of the now-defunct United States Football League, and David Pearson, his accountant, testified Tuesday that Young's assets are worth about $14 million.
Crimson Tide Athletics Director Mal Moore testified last week that Young was a "very big fan" of Alabama, and donated at least $35,000 to the school so its football program could purchase new video equipment and annually bought 20 of the most expensive season tickets for football games.
But investigators from the FBI and Tennessee Bureau of Investigation say Young was overzealous in his fondness for the Crimson Tide. According to prosecutors, Lang attempted to sell Means to at least eight schools: Alabama, Arkansas, Georgia, Kentucky, Memphis, Michigan State, Mississippi and Tennessee. And prosecutors allege Young was willing to pay a steep price.