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Another Day, Another Scandal: Claims About Auburn’s Program, Florida’s Coach Bring Fresh Headaches To SEC

scandalThere’s a running gag in the Ron Howard/Tom Hanks movie, “Splash,” that features Eugene Levy’s character repeatedly stating: “What a week I’m having.”

Somewhere, the great God of College Athletics must be muttering that line himself today.

Already this week we’ve had one of the worst sports injuries you’ll ever see traumatize an entire arena’s worth of people during Sunday’s Louisville/Duke basketball game.  The Pac-12′s head of officials was then exposed for “joking” about rewarding his refs if they would lob technical fouls at Arizona coach Sean Miller.  Then Rutgers’ hoops coach, Mike Rice, was canned after video emerged of him shoving and throwing basketballs at his players during practice sessions.  Yesterday, USA Today took aim at the background of NCAA president Mark Emmert, bringing up his potential wrongs and cover-ups at UConn and LSU.

Now this.  Auburn grad and blogger Selena Roberts has levied charge after charge against her alma mater’s football program.  One of the allegations involves then-AU assistant and current UF head coach Will Muschamp.  It’s rough stuff, not that Auburn officials or fans should be surprised by that anymore.  No school has been through the NCAA wringer more than AU and the string of alleged scandals in recent years is longer than a Tiger’s tail.

Roberts alleges that nine football players’ grades were changed to keep them eligible during the school’s 2010 BCS championship run.  Going back further, she claims money was offered to certain star underclassmen to keep them from turning pro early.  Florida’s Muschamp allegedly handed $400 over to a player at one point.  It’s also alleged that then-head coach Gene Chizik spent well over the NCAA’s cash limit on recruiting visits.

Roberts’ allegations all tie back to ex-Auburn players, but many of the key figures have since claimed they were misquoted, claimed they were quoted out of context, or claimed someone else might have inaccurately quoted them to the reporter.

Asked about the denials, Roberts said her facts are buttoned-up and that the reversals just show how much pressure there is for Auburn athletes to keep their mouths shut about wrongdoing within the Tiger athletic department.  Roberts herself was formerly employed by both Sports Illustrated and The New York Times, so she’s got some good names on her resume.

A spokesperson for the Auburn athletic department declined a request from The Birmingham News for a comment.  Gene Chizik’s agent refused to comment, too.  In Gainesville, Will Muschamp isn’t scheduled to go before the media until Saturday, but a Florida spokesperson has denied the allegation that the current Gator coach paid a player while on Tommy Tuberville’s Auburn staff.

That’s the gist of the story, here are the questions raised by it:


*  Did the NCAA just ask the wrong people the wrong questions while investigating AU’s program again and again over the past couple of years?  For a body accused of going too far in its investigation at Miami, the NCAA sure came up empty time and again in Auburn’s case.

*  Did players speak more honestly to Roberts because more time has passed or because Chizik and Tuberville and a number of ex-assistants are now out of the picture?  Unless Roberts is trying to commit career hari-kari, her story can’t be the complete fabrication it’s being portrayed as.  So how much of it is true, who said what, and for what purpose?

*  Will the NCAA send a fresh team of investigators to the Plains to follow up on these accusations?  AU officials should be used to visits from the NCAA by now.  For that matter, will this scandal be the straw that breaks the camel’s back for Auburn AD Jay Jacobs, a man already under fire from his fanbase?

*  Is the NCAA in any position to investigate or punish any school these days?  If its case against Miami’s athletic department and several former Hurricane coaches is thrown out — as those accused are pushing for — can the governing body wipe the egg from its face long enough to go after another school?

*  Will this all just go the way of Danny Sheridan’s bagman, Scott Moore’s secret audio tapes, and “the HBO Four?”  Auburn’s been smoky enough to give the Devil a cough in recent years, but to date no actual fire has ever been found.  Accusation after allegation after claim have been made, but nothing has stuck.  So will Roberts’ piece just get tossed onto the pile with the other unproven claims?

*  And just how much should Florida supporters be worrying today?  Fans can claim that the mere suggestion that something’s wrong is driven by anti-school bias — a few of them do so on this site every single day — but no school officials like reading anything about their coach paying a player.  Ever.  Whether it’s true or not.  And Gator fans might remember that the university initially stood by UF assistant Aubrey Hill.  A year later Hill resigned on his own.  And then the other shoe dropped as he was hit by the NCAA with charges that he’d provided misleading information to the body’s investigators during their look-see/witch-hunt at Miami.


What we can be sure of is the fact that Roberts has caused fresh headaches for officials at both Auburn and Florida.  True or not, her words will lead to more questions about what went on on the Plains under Tuberville and Chizik and how much Muschamp was involved… just as yesterday’s USA Today piece on Emmert opened an old wound surrounding LSU and current Alabama coach Nick Saban.  To shout, “Oh, no it won’t!” is folly.  Surely everyone realizes we live in a Twitter-driven universe that features a 24-hour news cycle.  Anyone who thinks there won’t be some follow-ups to Roberts’ piece and to the USA Today article is burying his head in the sand.  Those follow-ups could be small or they could be large, but they’ll come.  They always do.

This latest scandal is focused on the Southeastern Conference, a league whose reputation Mike Slive has long worked to polish.  While Slive must hate the negative pub, Emmert and Jim Delany are sure to love it as the media spotlight has now shifted away from the NCAA president’s resume and Rutgers’ handling of its basketball coach.

SEC fans can take solace in the fact that if we give it another day or two, this Auburn scandal will be bumped from “SportsCenter” by some other disgraceful event on some other campus in some other conference (hopefully).

Day after day, sports just seems to get seedier and seedier.

What a week we’re having, indeed.



Burn the Barn down!


She has players on tape making accusations. She needs publicity for her web site. Mainstream media (ESPN, USA Today, etc.) has a writer who worked for SI and the NY Times publishing a piece on Auburn football, which allows them to sell the story without being accountable for the content -- good for ratings, zero legal exposure. They are, after all, all businesses and will stretch rules in order to keep money coming in.

Are Roberts and McNeil trustworthy? Doesn't matter. They are making accusations, and those accusations conform to an existing narrative established by other former players and coaches making similar accusations. You can disparage all of them as disgruntled, mistaken, or misquoted, but at some point the sheer weight of the accusations over the years leaves an indelible impression.


@MrSEC Anyone think the big NCAA issues,( like Aub today) relate to the top tier schools know they are about to break from NCAA & don't care

The regular guy
The regular guy

I hope this isn't true (and, truthfully, I'm not sure how it can be, given the length and depth of previous investigations of the Aubies); the SEC doesn't need this kind of exposure.  On a different but similar note, what does it take to convince coaches to factor in character (as in, have some) and attitude (as in, not a thug) into the recruting process? 


@SabanSays The NCAA should actually take their championship away. Some of those guys should never have been available due to grades.


And the cycle continues.  Article comes out anti-saban or alabama and within a few days an anti-auburn article comes out.  Auburn's usual response usually involves how bad the trees are doing.


@SabanSays If the SEC Commish would quit covering up for AU and let them get their punishment.


For the record, as a college football fan, I am hoping none of it is true.


While Roberts did work for SI and the NYT, it's important to also note that her history with big stories is spotty at best, particularly her handling of the Duke lacrosse team and the subsequent acquittal of the players.  She has never recanted anything she wrote during that time, despite the facts that later came out in the case that absolved the players of any wrongdoing.  Also, several points in the Auburn story are either factually inaccurate or misleading.

What's most bothersome from a factual standpoint (besides the error in naming McNeil's potential future prison) is the picture painted in her article that delves into the "culture" around Auburn football, particularly the comments about long hair and tattoos.  Many players, black and white, had both of those attributes and many others were recruited heavily.  McNeil himself was one of these players.  Examples of white players include starting left tackle Lee Ziemba and Jake Holland.  Trooper Taylor's own son fought Auburn High School for the right to have dreadlocks, so it doesn't stand to reason that the example he set for his son wouldn't also apply to the team he coached.

There are also two other things that are important to note.  1) The primary accuser in this story is a man who will be on trial next week for a Class A felony.  2) The NCAA was on campus investigating Auburn's entire athletic department during the 2010 national title run and later send a letter of commendation to the department for it's adherence to guidelines.

 I'm certainly not naive enough to believe that absolutely nothing is going on.  It likely is at most major programs, because football is a business and companies will often stretch rules in order to keep the money coming in.  I just believe that there's more to this than meets the eye and wish mainstream media (ESPN, USA Today, etc) would dig deeper into things before re-posting this as gospel.

John, thanks for your even-handed approach to this.


Some would say Roberts commited hari-kari already with her handling of the duke lacross case.


There has been a lot of smoke, and any rational person would have to believe a fire may be there, but even all of the Cam Newton, HBO four, and Danny Sheridan combined with this story is far from proof.  There is little one can really know without access to the facts.  Even if this reporter's sources, quotes, and stories are "buttoned up," she is still stabbing in the dark.  Are we really to believe an accused felon with an axe to grind?  When Clay Travis needed attention, Trent Richardson was getting free suits and who knows what else, too, remember?


I have a feeling we will be reading about an Ole Miss recruiting scandal in a few years from now.


If the few people who are quoted in this story are now saying, "I didn't say that," what can the NCAA really do?  It's like the only witness to a murder saying, "Well, maybe I didn't see what I thought I saw."  If there's no physical evidence, and your only witnesses backtrack, what can a prosecutor do?  I know the NCAA is not a court of law, but what can they really do if the players quoted in this story are now saying they didn't say that or have been quoted out of context?  Maybe I'm wrong, but if they couldn't find any wrongdoing when investigating Cam Newton, I don't see a whole lot coming from this except for some public finger-pointing.  


The NCAA has no right to punish anybody until they clean up there own mess.


@b2v4ua @SabanSays 

The only way Slive covers for Auburn in all of these matters is if all thirteen other schools have equal amounts of dirt or if it can be handled internally without becoming public.  The second is not really an option, so be careful what you wish for.  I hope it is completely false in all fourteen cases.  I am not naive, but it could happen. 


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