As noted virtually everywhere by now, the NCAA placed Alabama on three years of probation today, after almost every varsity sport at the school was found to have players who'd abused the textbook reimbursement system between 2005-2007 (and probably longer than that, but UAT threw away their older records).
Scuttlebutt had held for weeks that Alabama was looking at a small handfull of scholarship reductions (on the order of two to six) in football, but as it turned out, no team was so penalized; officially, the only sanction is a chump-change fine (about $41,000) and forfiets in a large number of victories during the past school years in question.
Forfiets are always a weird sanction. They're at once the most appropriate and the most meaningless of penalties. Appropriate because fundamentally, a team that competes with ineligible players does so outside the rules and should not be allowed to claim a victory won in that fashion, but meaningless because few people take a forfiet seriously after the fact. I doubt that the various directional schools who lost to Alabama in, say, 2005 are going to put up any billboards over their new 1-0 record book "win."
But there's one other thing to consider here, and I'm not talking about the standard five-year extension of the "repeat offender window" following this four-peat of Alabama major violations cases.
Under the rules of the coaches' poll, a team on probation cannot be ranked. As of today, the coaches' poll comprises one-third of the BCS total. I'm not aware of a precedent here, but it stands to reason that a team on NCAA probation can never collect that one-third of BCS points, and thus is effectively banned from BCS bowls.
If that holds up, then football probation all by itself, regardless of any other sanctions, just became a major, major penalty.
UPDATE: Or not. Oklahoma is still on probation until the middle of next year, and they played in last year's BCS championship. Heck if I know how they squared that circle, but I'll read up and see what I can find.
UPDATE UPDATE: Well, this is clear as mud. The American College Football Coaches Association website indicates that "the coaches’ poll does not include teams on either NCAA or conference-sanctioned probation." USA Today, the sponsor of the poll, tempers that with the modifier "major probation," but what exactly that separates "major probation" from (presumably) "not-major probation" isn't spelled out anywhere I've been able to locate.
Obviously, since Oklahoma was not excluded from the coaches poll last year, it's doubtful that Alabama would be excluded from 2009-2011. It's a weird situation, perhaps somebody will ask the ACFA or the BCS to issue a clarifying statement in the near future.
UPDATE^3: Here's one funny bit: assuming that the NCAA rejected Florida State's recent appeal, this decision would mean that nobody won the 2007 UAT-FSU game, and in theory, it wasn't actually played...