What do you expect Auburn people to say? They will blindly swing at anyone who threatens them. Like we said before, when cash is involved it turns into a he said, he said scenario. You have to have the proof, because now they will paint and tar the people making the accusations.
On April 3rd, Selena Roberts posted a story titled, “Auburn’s Tainted Title” on the website Roopstigo.com. In it she alleged that sources within the Tiger football program — including ex-players — had revealed to her that academic fraud and bribery had taken place on the campus of Auburn University.
The national media flew into a frenzy and just one day later, ESPN released a story claiming that AU officials had also looked the other way regarding synthetic marijuana use on the Tigers’ BCS champion 2010 squad. The two stories back-to-back left the school and its football program with two black eyes. And as one of the most sanctioned schools in NCAA history, many media members and fans chose to believe those stories. (Ironically, the NCAA has since found “major” violations at Oregon — the team Auburn played in the BCS Championship Game in January of 2011 — but the Ducks have avoided the spotlight that’s been pointed toward the Plains.)
Auburn officials immediately shot down the ESPN story with the help of phone records and several ex-players and their parents. Now the school has released the findings of two reviews of the Roopstigo.com story conducted by Auburn Athletics and Auburn University Internal Auditing. Their findings:
“There is no evidence academic fraud occurred. The article alleges improper grade changes took place to make nine student-athletes eligible for the 2011 BCS National Championship Game. That is false. In fact, six players were academically ineligible for the BCS National Championship Game, and none of them made the trip to Arizona with the team.”
Among the other accusations rebuffed by AU:
1. Former Auburn running back Mike Dyer was never even in danger of academic ineligibility, having passed 15 hours in the fall of 2010 with a GPA of 2.8.
2. While former Auburn defensive back Mike McNeil did have a grade changed from an F to a C, the internal audit showed that all AU policies were followed and documented reasons for the change had been provided (excused absences from classes for medical reasons).
3. McNeil — who has since been sentenced to three years in prison for his involvement in a robbery — claimed that former AU assistant and current Florida head coach Will Muschamp paid him cash during the 2007 season, but “Coach Muschamp immediately and publicly denied the allegations, as was widely reported throughout the media.”
4. McNeil also claimed that he received $500 to be used to entertain then-prospect Dre Kirkpatrick — who later signed with Alabama — during his official on-campus visit to AU. However, “Mr. Kirkpatrick never took an official visit to Auburn.” Kirkpatrick has also said that no one spent money on him or game money to him during his unofficial visits to Auburn.
In summary, Auburn AD Jay Jacobs stated in today’s release that the facts demonstrate that “the article is clearly flawed.” He added: “I want you to know that I will always act on the basis of facts. I will continue to fight for Auburn University, and I will continue to defense this great institution against such attacks.”
Jacobs also took the time to back the “character and integrity” and compliance history of former coach Gene Chizik.
Interestingly, Jacobs also announced that “as part of our efforts to get better” on the playing fields and courts moving forward, “a top-notch team of current and former coaches, athletics administrators, student-athletes and business executives will be coming in to give us a comprehensive evaluation.” The committee was selected by Auburn president Jay Gogue and it’s been charged with reviewing everything from AU’s gameday experience to the athletic department’s finances. Jacobs claims to “welcome this review,” but it’s hard to see this as a positive for the under-fire AD.
Would you want your boss bringing in a group of people to fine-tooth the job you’re doing? Didn’t think so.
As for Auburn’s response to the Roopstigo.com article, let’s say what many across the nation will say when they read the statement — “What else was Auburn going to say?” Fair or not, many will not believe an internal investigation. Or two internal investigations, for that matter. Why? Because they’re internal investigations.
As players and coaches denied and backtracked from the Roopstigo.com story, the article did begin to look rather flimsy. But that doesn’t mean it’s not accurate.
Likewise, while some of Auburn’s defenses against the article — “Muschamp said he didn’t do it” — also look rather flimsy. But that doesn’t mean that AU cheated or whitewashed the situation in its dual investigations.
Auburn is hardly the first campus on which an athlete’s grade has been changed. Was McNeil’s changed on the up-and-up? We’ll never know. Auburn says yes. And if there’s documentation that went along with the grade change, it’s hard to imagine an external investigative team coming in and reaching a different conclusion than AU’s own look-see into the event.
Unfortunately for Auburn, an accusation in our society is often enough to gain a conviction in the court of public opinion. Such is life inside the Twitter bubble. Being an ex-con — seven times charged with serious NCAA infractions — Auburn also has the increased burden of proving its innocence to a “jury” whose opinions have been shaped by incidents dating back 20 years or more as well as by unproven accusations dating back to the Cam Newton affair.
Today’s release by Auburn effectively punches holes in Roberts’ story. But as much as Tiger fans may hope that this statement will end the hubbub and help polish up its football program’s reputation, that’s just not likely to happen.
The ESPN and Roopstigo articles provided the first word in the debate. Auburn was left to react. In a world where people make up their minds within seconds of reading a headline, providing the second word on a topic three weeks after it first came up isn’t good enough. And, yes, that’s incredibly unfair.
That’s also a fact that should scare the hell out of every university official out there. There is no time to wait for the facts to come in these days. An accusation is all it takes to destroy a reputation. By the time there’s a response to the accusation, most Americans have already moved on to the next scandal.