For the past five days, Clay Travis at OutKickTheCoverage.com has steadily unearthed a collection of online photos and video that indicate some manner of relationship between a Tuscaloosa menswear store owner and Alabama football players.
T-Town Menswear owner Tom Al-Betar, an Alabama booster and 2009 & 2010 sideline pass holder who opened the store 13 months ago at a mall location three miles from the University of Alabama campus, has assembled a wide-array of on-display memorabilia featuring former Crimson Tide players and at least one current Alabama student-athlete, Trent Richardson.
After Travis broke the story, the University of Alabama released a cease-and-desist letter (full size) it claimed was sent to Al-Betar on Dec. 22, 2010. The school’s letter - signed by Alabama Associate Athletic Director for Compliance Mike Ward, directed Al-Betar to cease selling memorabilia that included likenesses of current Alabama football players. Al-Betar was also ordered to stop using likenesses of current players in advertisements of any kind.
A month later, on Jan. 26, 2011, Al-Betar hosted a high-profile autograph signing for ex-Alabama quarterback Greg McElroy outside T-Town Menswear’s mall location. At the time of the autograph show, which was covered by the TUSCALOOSA NEWS, signed jerseys of multiple, current Alabama football players could be seen in a T-Town Menswear store window display.
Al-Betar later posted a photo of the same current UA football player-related display on his defunct Facebook page on Feb. 4, 2011.
So why would Al-Betar disobey the demands detailed in a letter from the same school that has formally granted him sideline passes for Alabama football games the past two seasons?
The Alabama compliance letter did not address Al-Betar by name or T-Town Menswear. All that distinguishes the Alabama compliance document from a form letter was a handwritten notation at the top of the one-page document that read, “Kiosk @ Mall. Tom’s.”
Indeed, Al-Betar did operate a kiosk in the mall at the time, which apparently included signed memorabilia from current Alabama football players - though it’s difficult to tell from the below photo posted on Al-Betar’s Facebook page on Sept. 15, 2010:
The date of the letter from UA to Al-Betar, Dec. 22, 2010, also wasn’t just a red-letter day for the Crimson Tide compliance department.
On the same day Alabama sent a cease-and-desist letter to the Alabama booster and men’s suits store owner, the news broke detailing the association between Ohio State football players and a local tattoo parlor owner - and the possibility that OSU’s scarlet & gray squad could lose some of its players for the Sugar Bowl.
Al-Betar’s store displays also include memorabilia featuring Mark Ingram, who obtained the suit he wore for the 2009 Heisman Trophy ceremony from T-Town menswear. Of that suit, Al-Betar previously posted a Facebook photo of Ingram getting fitted for it at T-Town Menswear before the Dec. 13, 2009, ceremony.
In Al-Betar’s now-deleted Facebook picture of the fitting scene, Ingram appears to attempt to block the photo from being taken with an outstretched arm and open hand.
Or, perhaps, Ingram was merely striking an apropos Heisman pose when the photo was taken. Or outstretching his arm as he was being fitted.
After Ingram won the Heisman Trophy, Al-Betar created a store display that included a suit that looked similar to what Ingram wore for the ceremony. Accompanying the suit was a large action photo of Ingram and oversized display text that read, “The Mark Ingram ‘Heisman’ Suit.”
The photo of the Ingram Heisman display was posted on Al-Betar’s Facebook page on Sept. 15, 2010, though the star running back would play another season for the Alabama football squad.
Al-Betar’s Facebook account also included a shot of Ingram signing memorabilia inside T-Town Menswear. The below photos were taken on Jan. 10, 2010, three days after Ingram helped lead the Crimson Tide to a victory over Texas in the BCS Championship Game.
After the above (Jan. 10, 2010) photos were taken, Ingram played another season for Alabama.
Based on a camera timestamp, Ingram can be seen inside T-Town menswear in Al-Betar’s online photo collection as early as Dec. 31., 2009, the day before the Alabama football team departed for the 2010 BCS title game in Pasadena.
Ingram is one of dozens of Alabama football players seen in photos formerly posted online by Alabama booster Al-Betar. Those pictures often place current and former players inside T-Town Menswear and in the case of current player Richardson, out to dinner with store owner Al-Betar at a Tuscaloosa restaurant on Jan. 23, 2010.
The University of Alabama has yet to issue a statement or communicate anything to the public on the record about the relationship between Alabama booster Al-Betar and the Crimson Tide football program.
Kevin Scarbinsky of the BIRMINGHAM NEWS reported today:
An Alabama source said Friday that the school did not believe the eligibility of any current player was in jeopardy and that the school did not forward information about the situation to the SEC or NCAA.
In a July 22 piece titled, “Source: Alabama found no wrongdoing, “Joe Schad of ESPN.com reported:
Alabama looked into the relationship between T-Town, the store, and players such as star running back Trent Richardson and concluded that the players did not receive benefits such as merchandise or discounts, a source said.
Two weeks ago Alabama’s compliance department released 36 NCAA violations committed the last two years by school athletic programs. Among the football violations was the following:
Strength and Conditioning staff member returned a voicemail message not knowing the caller was a prospective student-athlete.
The 36 NCAA violations released by the school to the public did not include anything pertaining to the relationship of Alabama players and Tom Al-Betar, T-Town Menswear, or “Kiosk @ Mall. Tom’s.”