BIRMINGHAM, Ala. — The most talked about man Monday at Southwestern Athletic Conference Media Day was also the man who wasn’t there.
While his new coach and teammates were answering questions about him, Isaiah Crowell was well out of range back in Montgomery, Ala., preparing for his first season at Alabama State.
Crowell wound up on the ASU campus earlier this month after he was sent packing from Georgia following his late June arrest on three charges stemming from a concealed handgun found under his driver’s seat.
If eventually convicted, Crowell could face a prison sentence and hefty fine. That may or may never happen. Meanwhile, a Georgia program that rated as the team to beat in the Southeastern Conference Eastern Division is diminished, while an Alabama State team is elevated above its rivals in the rugged SWAC East as the favorite over Jackson State and Alabama A&M.
You have to figure it is because of Crowell’s presence on the ASU roster. The fact is that he was the nation’s No. 1 running back prospect for the class of 2011, the kind of talent no other SWAC team can match.
“I’m not going to lie to you,” Alabama State coach Reggie Barlow said. “Of course the guy can play. We wouldn’t be having this conversation if he played like me.”
It’s also a match some other SWAC coaches wouldn’t have made.
“That works for them,” Southern coach Stump Mitchell said. “I don’t think it would have worked for us. We’ve lost some players because of situations we don’t condone. That’s just the way we are.”
Mitchell is free to draw a line in the turf for his program. But it is hardly a surprise that another SWAC program took a chance on Crowell’s talent.
“Really, at the end of the day, that’s what we are,” SWAC Commissioner Duer Sharp said. “I know some people don’t want to come to grips with that, but we are a second-chance league for guys who have made a mistake or multiple mistakes.
“But we’re hoping that as you do take these student-athletes who have had issues at the schools they’re coming from, that you do sit down with them and say, ‘Hey, this is a second chance for you. It’s a privilege to play football in the SWAC, not a right.’”
Alabama State’s school president on down to its athletic director had to sign off on Crowell’s admission. Barlow said Crowell and his family have been told of what a thin sideline stripe he now walks if he wants to keep playing.
“He understands our expectations, and his parents understand that,” Barlow said. “There’s a set of roles he has to be accountable for. I’ve got full confidence he will do that.
“We will hold him accountable.”
Alabama State will also be held accountable and scrutinized far above what it would have been without Crowell.
Time will tell if the Hornets have a better chance of holding on to him than Georgia did.