Wednesday, April 12, 2006

A Death in Memphis

nless you're from Memphis or the Mid-South region, you've probably never heard of Logan Young. Until a couple of years ago, Mr. Young was best known as the local Pepsi-Cola bottler, and the original owner of the city's USFL team, which played in the early 1980s.

But more recently, Logan Young became synonmyous with the seamy underside of college football, where rich alumni and supporters provide cash and other gifts, to lure talented players to their school. Last year, Mr. Young was convicted on federal racketeering and money laundering charges, stemming from his role in a 2000 recruiting scandal involving the University of Alabama. According to media reports and court testimony, Young paid more than $150,000 to a Memphis high school football coach, Lynn Lang. In return, Lang persuaded his star player, defensive tackle Albert Means, to sign with the Crimson Tide--the school that counted Logan Young as an influential booster and donor to the football program. Ironically, Means and his family never received any money. After a year in Tuscaloosa, Means transferred to the University of Memphis, where he finished his playing career.

On Tuesday, Logan Young was found dead in his Memphis home, the apparent victim of foul play. Police haven't ruled the death a homicide, but there were signs of a struggle and "lots of blood," according to one detective. Young had been sentenced to six months in jail by a federal judge, but remained free so he could undergo a kidney transplant. Police have not named any suspects in connection with Young's death, although his son (Logan Young III) was interviewed shortly after the father's body was found.

If money is the mother's milk of politics, then the same rule applies to college football. Officially, it's still a game played by amateurs, but "pay for play" has long been an integral part of big-time programs. Talk to anyone who's been around the game for a while, and you'll discover that almost everyone cheats; "special" players get cash, cars and more in exchange for signing with the right school and delivering on the gridiron. The Young case was unique in that it is one of the few times that a major booster has been caught with the checkbook in his hands, and actually punished for his misdeeds.

Who would want Mr. Young dead? Beyond his son (who has professed his innocence), the list of other, potential suspects is long. The Alabama recruiting scandal wrecked lives and careers, and there are signs that someone (or perhaps a group of individuals) want the episode to end, once and for all. Before Logan Young was found dead on Tuesday, an attorney representing two Alabama coaches implicated in the scandal was attacked, and key documents were stolen from him. The attorney (who survived the attack) was preparing a lawsuit on behalf of the disgraced coaches against the NCAA.

There's also lingering suspicion that others could be called to justice in the scandal. The grand jury that indicted Logan Young remained empaneled well after the original indictments were handed down. There was also talk that Mr. Young was cooperating with investigators after his conviction. That prospect alone might have motivate someone to silence Logan Young--permanently.

In another ironic twist, reports in various media outlets indicate that Mr. Young never actually attended the University of Alabama. But he eagerly cast his lot with the Crimson Tide, and was welcomed on campus as a well-heeled donor--until that federal grand jury became interested in his activities. It's just a hunch, but I'm guessing that the when the Tide opens its 2006 football season, there won't be a moment of silence in Bryant-Denny Stadium for Logan Young.

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