Auburn fans are just like any other fans. They cheer for their teams. They spend money to follow them. They send us ugly emails and suggest we’re fans of some other SEC team anytime we so much as mention a negative associated with their teams.
They don’t deserve what’s been tossed their way the past couple of years. Cecil Newton asked — and he’s admitted doing so to NCAA officials — for money from Mississippi State backers in order to have his son sign with the Bulldogs. Because Cam Newton inked, played, and thrived at Auburn, the Tigers were the target of an NCAA investigation and numerous media probes. No smoking gun was ever found. No bag man was ever named.
Auburn got a black eye for nothing. (Though the NCAA has now changed its rules as a result.)
Now Tiger fans are going to have to hunker down for yet another string of cloudy days. Charles Robinson of Yahoo! Sports revealed yesterday afternoon that suspended Tiger Varez Ward and formerly suspended Tiger Chris Denson were involved in an FBI investigation into point-shaving.
Denson was found to have had no involvement and was allowed to suit up again for Tony Barbee’s squad. The FBI still has questions for Ward regarding a pair of losses this season — an 18-point loss to Alabama and a three-point loss to Arkansas — and possibly more.
Auburn officials have clammed up after releasing a short statement:
“Auburn officials were made aware of a rumor regarding an allegation two weeks ago and immediately reported it to the FBI, the NCAA and the SEC. Because of the nature of the allegation, Auburn is not in a position to make any further comment on the situation.”
Barbee would only reiterate yesterday what the school had already released in its statement.
Yahoo! Sports reports that AU officials were made aware of the rumor when a current Tiger player alerted an assistant coach to his concerns. Meanwhile, NCAA honchos have said that Auburn will likely face no penalties if it’s found that Ward — acting on his own — did shave points. The body’s official statement:
“The NCAA takes any allegation of point shaving very seriously because sports wagering threatens two of our core principles — the well-being of student-athletes and the very integrity of intercollegiate sport. As allegations of point shaving, if proven, are also potential federal crimes the NCAA will defer action until any process with the FBI has concluded.”
As for Ward, Al.com reports:
“Ward has privately confirmed that federal authorities have questioned him about point-shaving allegations in games he played for the Tigers this season. He has denied those allegations, according to a source familiar with Ward’s version of events.
Ward has said that federal authorities seized his phone through a court order and questioned him with a lie-detector test, according to the source. Ward was not aware of the current status of the investigation.”
Regarding evidence of point-shaving, Covers.com — a site focused on sports gambling — claims that managers of four different sportsbooks told the site they’d neither seen nor heard anything suspicious regarding Auburn’s program or the games in question. In fact, AU still covered the 9.5-point spread in its loss to Arkansas. (Ward only played 19 seconds in that game before leaving with a knee injury.)
In the Alabama loss — in which the Tide was favored by five — Ward scored just three points and turned the ball over six times.
However, directors of three Las Vegas sportsbooks told Al.com that they have not been contacted by the FBI, which is usually a given in a point-shaving case. One anonymous bookmaker said: “We haven’t heard from them about any Vegas action. If there is something wrong, if something happens here, they’d absolutely be involved. There’s been nothing at this time.”
Of course, there’s still the possibility that offshore sportsbooks might have been used.
As a result of all of this, ESPN is now jumping all over the story and you can bet it will be a staple of its 24-hour news cycle. So as Kevin Scarbinsky of The Birmingham News correctly points out: “The words ‘Auburn” and “point shaving” have been linked nationally.”
Such scandals hurt Boston College in the 1970s, Tulane in the ’80s, Arizona State and Northwestern in the ’90s. Kentucky was given a one-year ban in 1952-53 due to point-shaving. Then-national power CCNY saw it’s entire program start to crumble as a result of the same investigation that took down UK.
Rest assured rival coaches will use the words “Auburn” and “point-shaving” together when recruiting against the Tigers in the coming months. All through no fault of Barbee or Auburn.
By all accounts so far, as soon as the Tiger staff learned of the issue, they sent the info up the chain of command. Ditto the school which — again by all accounts — quickly turned over the info to the SEC and the NCAA and the FBI. Following the Newton scandal, AU officials probably had a good idea of how to handle such a fiasco and plenty of motivation to avoid another yet drawn-out investigation filled with innuendos.
Still, it’s Barbee’s program and its fans who will pay the price for this story coming to light in the first place. Throw any hatred you might have for Tiger fans out the window and put yourself in their shoes. You’d be asking, “What’d we do to deserve all this?” too.