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Crimson Tide castaway

Sports | Albert Means's final game as a college football player will mark the end of a dubious era

Issue: "Iraq: Fallujah's fallen," Nov. 27, 2004

Albert Means's final game as a college football player will mark the end of a dubious era. The sordid career of Mr. Means, a 5th-year senior for Memphis who has been all but forgotten as a player, has come to stand for all that's wrong with major college football. In a stunning pay-for-play episode, a University of Alabama booster paid Mr. Means's high-school coach $150,000 to deliver the high-school All American defensive lineman to the Crimson Tide. Mr. Means, who trusted his coach, was bought and sold without ever knowing it.

After an investigation, the NCAA sanctioned Alabama with five years of probation, a two-year bowl ban, and 21 lost scholarships. Tennessee coach Phil Fullmer has skipped out of public appearances in Alabama to avoid a subpoena related to the case. In the aftermath, Mr. Means became listless, letting his grades slip down and his weight creep up. Later, he transferred to Memphis.

Now, while the lawsuits still simmer, Mr. Means has settled into a productive senior year with the Tigers. He's married and plays defensive tackle at just under 320 pounds. He's recorded four sacks in his first nine games and has even drawn the attention of some NFL scouts. That's a far cry from being compared to Mean Joe Green. But considering what Mr. Means has been through, maybe it's not so bad.

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Long way back

• After signing a letter of intent with Alabama, Memphis native Albert Means left home expecting to become a football star. But first, he had to endure treachery from his own high-school coaches. Here's how it happened:

• Jan. 10, 2001: The Memphis Commercial Appeal publishes reports that Mr. Means's coach Lynn Lang accepted tens of thousands of dollars from Alabama boosters.

• Jan. 12, 2001: After learning of the scandal through the papers, Mr. Means withdraws from Alabama and returns to Memphis.

• Aug. 29, 2001: The NCAA allows Mr. Means to step on the field with Memphis, waiving the one-year transfer rule. He records five sacks for the Tigers in 2001. After red-shirting in 2002, he records 10 sacks in 2003.

Season of discontent

Why so glum, Ron Artest? Is it the record sales or the playing time? For the Indiana Pacers forward, both have been a concern. With a rap album due out on Nov. 23, Mr. Artest recently found himself on the wrong side of public outrage when he admitted he had asked his coach, Rick Carlisle, for a month off during the NBA season to promote his musical creation. Instead, he got two days-suspended.

But with time to think it over, Mr. Artest altered his position. "After the album comes out," he said, "I'm going to make sure all of my time is focused on winning a championship." At least he's not thinking about quitting his day job.

Mr. Artest isn't the first basketball player to try and blur the line between hip-hop and the NBA. Shaquille O'Neal-who rhymes with the agility due a 7-foot-1, 340-pound man-amazingly has recorded six rap albums (including a best-of). Philadelphia guard Allen Iverson tried to cross over into the rap world, but canceled his album when critics decried his lyrics. Kobe Bryant junked his idea for an album after an embarrassing preview. Chris Webber has an album and a record label too.

It's a season of discontent for some NBA players. Mr. Artest wants a sabbatical, 76ers forward Glenn Robinson wants a trade, and Minnesota guard Latrell Sprewell says he's has money problems.

Clamoring for a new contract, Mr. Sprewell told reporters, "I've got my family to feed." At Mr. Sprewell's current $14.6 million salary, he could buy over five tons of bulk granola. Note to Spree: A good way to save money would be to eat in.

Around the Horn

• Oklahoma football coach Bob Stoops isn't saying there's a conspiracy at ESPN to push a Southeastern Conference school into the national championship game. But he has bristled at ESPN analysts who have said that an Auburn team with one loss should be ahead of a one-loss Oklahoma team. Mr. Stoops notes that ESPNhas a contract with the SEC: "I think all the people ought to be aware who their contracts are with and what some of their agendas may be."

• Could Luke Skywalker join the Dark Side? Despite winning a World Series, Boston fans may have another reason to hate the New York Yankees. George Steinbrenner met with Red Sox ace Pedro Martinez, trying to lure the right-handed free agent away from Boston. Both sides called the meeting productive.

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