Okay, before I get started, I'll direct your attention to a piece Don Kausler wrote for the Birmingham News on Wednesday. Its the most comprehensive rundown of the Dareus situation that I've read from a "legitimate" news source. You can read that here. There are a heck of a lot of references to unnamed sources in the article, but everything matches up with what I've heard from multiple sources I would consider reliable.
All I would add that the article leaves out is that Dareus did NOT use the hotel room because he has family ties to the area (his biological father was a Haitian immigrant) and opted to stay with a family friend. You can actually read a really good profile of Dareus from April of this year (also by Kausler) here. Ironically, as hindsight renders all, there's a lengthy section of that article where his family talks about how difficult it is to keep agents at bay.
Obviously, I hope that story is true, and I don't have much reason not to believe it, but we'll see how it holds up under investigation. I know Saban puts his players through an extensive agent education program and even does quite a bit to provide legitimate, above-board means for players to meet with agents when the appropriate time comes. And apparently it works. As many as 4 other Bama players were approached regarding the Miami trip, and all declined. But considering Dareus' pre-existing relationship with Austin, and perhaps his vulnerable emotional state at the time, I can see how he could unwittingly fall into a situation he didn't need to be in.
And I know a lot of people are poking holes in Dareus' story because it claims he went to Miami while his mother was on her deathbed. They either say it proves that he's lying because no one would do such a thing or that it makes him some sort of bad person. I know that's not something I would do, but I can't judge the guy either. If you read the second article I linked, you'll see that Dareus' mother had been in extremely poor health for years and nearly died on at least one occasion before this. I just point that out to say that its not uncommon for people with loved ones suffering from a serious chronic illness to perceive the situation as interminable and to be somewhat numb themselves to the reality of it. There's no way of knowing if that's what Marcell was going through at the time, but I think its worth considering. Regardless, I don't think it makes him a bad person.
But anyway, back to football...
It will be a HUGE blow to Alabama's hopes of repeating as not just National Champions, but SEC Champions, as well. Or even SEC West champions, for that matter. With Bama breaking in a new secondary, the pass rush will be key to helping cover for those new guys as they get settled in. And Dareus is far and away the best pass rusher on the team, perhaps even one of the best in the country if he gets the chance to prove it this year. He has always been the most physically talented DL on the team since the day he set foot on campus, but he had just begun to come into his own as a confident, dominant presence towards the end of the 2009 season. He is set to blow up in 2010, IF he gets to play. Alabama has a lot of big, athletic guys on the roster, but nobody is in his galaxy. What's more, he blossomed into a big-time leader during spring practice. Not just for the defensive line, but for the offensive line, too. Word from within the team is that he spends time coaching up the offensive line on what techniques opposing defensive linemen are going to try and use on them.
If he's ineligible, he's irreplaceable.
So will he be? There was an erroneous report out just the other day that he had indeed been declared ineligible, but Alabama quickly came out and debunked the story. Even if he had been, that's just standard operating procedure in a case of improper benefits. This time last year, Julio Jones and Mark Ingram were temporarily ineligible during I'M ON A BOATgate. They didn't miss a game.
Assuming he didn't receive cash, and at this point no one has suggested he did, his eligibility will be determined by the monetary value of the benefits he received (travel, lodging, food, entertainment). If Dareus' story is confirmed and he paid his own travel and didn't use the hotel room, his involvement is almost nil, and he could skate with as little as a one game suspension. However, assuming reality is not quite as rosy as he paints it, I could see a suspension up to 6 games. Then again, there's also the super paranoid Bama fan in me that hears the word "NCAA" and automatically assumes the worst case scenario. And with that perspective in mind, nothing would surprise me.
You also have to keep in mind that Dareus' punishment is not limited to what gets recommended by the NCAA. Again, if you go back to last summer, Jerrell Harris was suspended for 4 games by the NCAA for receiving a laptop from an Auburn saboteur. However, Angry Saban suspended him an additional 2 games for pure stupidity. And I hear Saban is positively furious over this. Of course, Harris also initially "fibbed" under duress, which didn't help his situation. I guess we'll find out how truly honest and cooperative Dareus has been in the coming weeks.
So I'm putting my over/under mark for a suspension at 3 games. The big winner in that scenario is Penn State. They have no one on their offensive line that's man enough to handle Dareus. If he plays, they maybe get in the endzone once. If he doesn't, I think it gets a lot more competitive.
Well, that's it for now. If I had written this on Wednesday, I'd probably have put down a 10,000 word polemic, but time, perspective, and more reassuring information have mellowed me out. Besides, I'm sure there will be about a dozen more opportunities to address this further before it gets resolved. If anybody has questions about the Dareus story, you can post them in the comment section and I'll try to address them. I'm sure I have more information that I just wrote, it just slipped my mind.