The news that the University of Alabama was placed on probation certainly came as a surprise to me, being that I was completely unaware that they were even being investigated. Put simply, the university is being punished as a result of some several hundred student-athletes across various sports (including football) receiving textbooks free of charge. More so, the NCAA is punishing them for not maintaining oversight of its athletic program and mishandling the situation internally.
While the offense seems extremely minor, it goes back to the very basis of most NCAA violations and subsequent investigations. Student-athletes should not be receiving anything free of charge on behalf of the university or otherwise. In other words, they should not be paid, in monies or otherwise. While the receiving of textbooks does not certainly promote a competitive advantage on the field, a team utilizing a player who should be ineligible is cheating, plain and simple. Alabama's penalty involves the forfeiture of an unspecified number of wins, but they get to keep scholarships. Apparently, the NCAA did not believe that the offense was enough to warrant extensive punishment.
This begs the question regarding other high profile NCAA investigations, namely the one going on at Memphis. If the NCAA can find that Derrick Rose did in fact submit a forged SAT score, do you think the NCAA would respond like they did with Alabama? Certainly the wins and Final Four appearance would come out. Add to the Tigers dilemma the fact that Dozier admitted to cheating on his SATs, and you have a much bigger mess. While the NCAA legally has to treat the incidents as separate, they cannot help but look at them equally.
The connection between Alabama and Memphis is that they both used players who were ineligible. In the past, the NCAA would tack on post-season bans along with probation. Intrestingly, ever since the "death penalty" case at SMU, probations have been lighter and lighter. Auburn's mid-90s probation is the last that comes to mind that involved post-season bans. (The football team posted an unbeaten record in 1994, in the midst of probation.) Should the same not apply here also?
You could make a case that Memphis' violations are much more severe, but probation is nothing if it doesn't carry any teeth. Stripping wins is one thing, stripping scholarships and post-season eligibility is another. I would expect this to happen at Memphis, and subsequently USC and Tennessee for their violations. But the penalty issued to Alabama just seems too light.