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Tide says so long to probation

TUSCALOOSA (AP) — Alabama's five-year NCAA probation officially ended Thursday, marking the conclusion of one of the darkest periods in Crimson Tide football history.

The NCAA placed the program on probation Feb. 1, 2002 for violations mostly involving boosters and the recruitment of defensive linemen Albert Means and Kenny Smith.

The bulk of the sanctions, including scholarship reductions and a two-year postseason ban, have long since ended. However, the probation lasted until now.

"This athletic department and the university faithfully adhered to the spirit of the ruling the NCAA handed down," Alabama athletic director Mal Moore said in a statement.

"I am gratified that we have used what we endured as an opportunity to make some positive changes in approach to recruiting and all matters dealing with compliance to NCAA rules."

The NCAA's restrictions barring boosters from attending practices closed to the public or traveling on team charters are also lifted, Alabama sports information director Doug Walker said.

Alabama would have been subject to harsher penalties as a repeat offender for any major infractions while on probation.

The five-year mark will also mean the Tide can receive a financial windfall.

The Southeastern Conference withheld Alabama's share of the bowl payouts for the 2002 and 2003 seasons, when the program was under a postseason ban.

"Their share of the money went into escrow," SEC associate commissioner Charles Bloom told the Montgomery Advertiser. "They get 50 percent of their share for the two years they were on probation."

The other half was divided among league members, Bloom said.

Alabama and the SEC both declined to disclose how much money the university will receive. The conference handed out $101.9 million following the 2002 season and $108.8 million the next year.

If those funds were divvied up equally among the 12 schools, Alabama's 50 percent share would come to nearly $9 million.

While the Tide's probation has expired, two lawsuits stemming from the NCAA's case against Alabama continue.

Former assistant coaches Ivy Williams and Ronnie Cottrell have appealed to the Alabama Supreme Court seeking to reverse a Tuscaloosa County judge's decision. Circuit Judge Steve Wilson set aside a $30 million judgment a jury awarded to Cottrell against former recruiting analyst Tom Culpepper in a libel suit and ordered a new trial.

Culpepper's attorneys have also appealed to the state Supreme Court asking for a new trial or for the original verdict to be overturned.

Former Alabama booster Ray Keller of Scottsboro also has sued the NCAA and others, claiming defamation of character and invasion of privacy. That trial has been delayed while the NCAA appeals a judge's ruling that Keller is only a limited public figure, allowing a lower standard for proving defamation.

The university cut ties to Keller, the late Logan Young of Memphis and Chattanooga businessman Wendell Smith during the investigation into recruiting violations.

Copyright 2005 Associated Press. All rights reserved. This material may not be published, broadcast, rewritten or redistributed.

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