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Paying The Price

The end of the road comes for a figure in a recruiting scandal that refuses to die

When rookie free agent Albert Means was cut by the Houston Texans last month, it likely signaled the end of his unremarkable football career. Once the most promising high school defensive lineman in the country, he'll be remembered for being at the heart of a recruiting scandal that left one booster headed to prison, two schools on probation and several coaches' careers in disarray.

Means decided to attend Alabama in 2000 after Crimson Tide booster Logan Young gave $150,000 to Lynn Lang, Means's coach at Trezevant High in Memphis. Lang had become a father figure to Means--he says he often helped with the groceries and bills--and convinced recruiters that he had enough influence over the teenager to steer him to any school. The payoff came to light when a Lang assistant who hadn't received a promised share of the money spilled the story to the Memphis Commercial Appeal. Since Lang worked for a public school, Young, 64, a millionaire businessman whose passion for Alabama football reportedly led him to brag about how many Alabama players he had "purchased," was charged with felony bribery of a public official.

Young, who was defended by Watergate special prosecutor Jim Neal, was found guilty in February, and on Monday U.S. district court judge Daniel Breen sentenced him to six months in prison. (Lang, after losing his job at Trezevant, pleaded guilty to a federal racketeering charge in November 2002 and was given probation; he now lives in Michigan, where he is unemployed.)

But Young's sentencing won't bring closure to the case. Former Alabama assistant coaches Ivy Williams and Ronnie Cottrell have sued the NCAA for defamation, claiming they can't find suitable work since being implicated in the scandal. And former Kentucky assistant Claude Bassett, who allegedly offered Lang cash to entice Means to become a Wildcat, has sued the NCAA, claiming sanctions against him have kept him out of the college coaching ranks. ( Alabama was placed on five years' probation, and Kentucky got three years, for a variety of infractions, including some related to Means.)

While legal battles continue, there is still the question of how routine the selling of high school stars is. At Young's trial, Lang, the prosecution's star witness, alleged that several schools promised him cash, jobs and cars in exchange for delivering Means. But the full story remains to be told. Patten Brown, the federal public defender who represented Lang, says he was shocked when his client told him the extent of the offers. "I've been an SEC football fan all my life, and I've heard rumors of these things," says Brown. "But this was amazing. The more I listened, the more convinced I became that this was a lot more common than it is not." Young, who is appealing his conviction, hasn't spoken publicly but indicated to SI that he would like to tell his story once his case is resolved.

In the end, all the fuss was over a player who turned out to be, at best, a decent lineman on a mid-major college team. Means put on weight after committing to Alabama and played in just seven games as a freshman. After the scandal broke in 2001, Means transferred to Memphis. (The NCAA, which never accused Means of any wrongdoing, allowed him to transfer without sitting out, but he redshirted in 2002 to focus on academics.) In his final two seasons he had 90 tackles and six sacks. He was undrafted and never stood much of a chance to make the Texans, who invited him to minicamp. He sits in Memphis, wondering what he'll do next and watching as the scandal plays itself out. "It really does surprise me," Means said recently, "that all these people thought I was worth this. I hold no ill will, but a lot of people hurt themselves here." --Don Yaeger

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About Don Yaeger

Don Yaeger - Certified Speaking Professional (CSP), longtime Associate Editor for Sports Illustrated, 11-time New York Times best-selling author, leadership expert and executive coach.

Don Yaeger is a Certified Speaking Professional (CSP), longtime Associate Editor for Sports Illustrated, 11-time New York Times best-selling author, leadership expert and executive coach.

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