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More than a slap on the wrist

When the sanctions against the University of Alabama football program were announced Thursday, most Crimson Tide fans probably breathed a big sigh of relief.

The specter of scholarship losses or postseason bans was cause for concern, but the penalty handed down—three years probation and the vacation of 21 wins from the 2005 through 2007 seasons—should not immediately affect the program’s ability to attract top high school prospects and compete for championships in the coming seasons.

“I don’t think this is going to affect the vision of the program or the student-athletes in the program or that we’re recruiting,” coach Nick Saban said.

It could have been worse, but the sanctions are nothing to sneeze at. The forfeiture of the wins means Alabama, whose fans love nothing more than to brag about their team’s decorated history, would drop from seventh place to eighth place on the list of the programs with the most all-time wins. The Crimson Tide would find itself only two wins ahead of rival Tennessee. Also, the Cotton Bowl win over Texas Tech at the end of the 2005 season would be vacated, meaning Alabama would drop out of a tie with USC at the top of the list of the programs with the most all-time bowl victories.

Most importantly, though, ‘Bama again is in the national spotlight as a program that can’t follow the rules, that relies on questionable tactics to compete in the current landscape of a sport it hasn’t dominated since the 1970s. That reputation might not be fair, but Alabama has done little to dispel the attitude by suffering through its fourth major infractions case in the last 14 years, more than any other Football Bowl Subdivision program.

And with the probation cloud hanging over the program for three more years, Tide fans better hope the fifth case doesn’t come anytime soon.