Alabama handling investigation of Smith's suspension

Alabama coach Nick Saban said Wednesday the suspension of Outland Trophy winner Andre Smith from Friday's Allstate Sugar Bowl was an institutional matter and not an NCAA matter.

The junior offensive tackle's suspension was related to improper dealings with an agent, but Saban would not address whether it was Smith or somebody else on his behalf that had improper dealings.

"This is an institutional matter. It's not an NCAA matter, which has been verified by the NCAA," Saban told reporters in his first comments on the suspension. "So anybody that's out there worried about that doesn't need to really think too much about it."

Smith, who was sent home from New Orleans where the Crimson Tide will play the Utah Utes Jan. 2, declined to comment about the specifics of the matter, which is being investigated by Alabama officials.

The state of Alabama has stringent laws regarding agents and anybody posing as an agent, including runners. Alabama attorney general Troy King released a statement Wednesday vowing to get to the bottom of everything.

"The university has already begun its own internal investigation. I have been promised and am now awaiting the results of that investigation," King said in the statement. "As soon as I receive them, we will move swiftly to determine whether any violations have occurred and, if so, to hold those responsible accountable."

The NCAA said in a statement that it has been in contact with Alabama and that the "institution is handling the matter."

Saban said it wasn't his place to provide further details when pressed by reporters.

"This is a family issue. It's something that happened internally with a player on our team," Saban said. "I know there's interest out there, but I don't feel like it's my place to give out that information about our players … and I'm not going to."

Saban praised Smith as a fine young man who had represented Alabama well and stressed that his legacy shouldn't be tarnished by this incident. Saban also said that no decision has been made as to whether Smith will return to Alabama for his senior season or turn pro.

Smith is rated by ESPN's Todd McShay as the No. 2 prospect in the NFL draft if he decides to come out, which most observers feel he will.

"It's very disappointing and unfortunate that not good judgment was used in a circumstance that has created consequences for him in terms of him being able to participate in this game," Saban said. "It's unfortunate. But hopefully it's something we can all learn from and other players on our team will learn from as well in terms of when you do things right, things usually work out the right way. And if you don't, they don't.

"And sometimes, when you don't, your actions create consequences and that can go in a positive way or it can go in a negative way. And this one didn't work out that good."

Saban confirmed that Mike Johnson would shift from left guard to left tackle against Utah, with sophomore David Ross moving into the starting lineup at left guard.

Chris Low covers the SEC for ESPN.com