“Here we go again,” the Auburn fan must be thinking today. From the fall of 2010 through the spring of 2013, the AU football program has been the target of numerous media investigations, a lengthy NCAA investigation, and multiple rumors, innuendos, claims, and accusations.
Just this week, the school has been the focus of two investigative pieces that have gained national attention. Selena Roberts’ allegations of grade-changing, paying players, and recruiting violations came first. A day later, ESPN decided to unveil “a six-month investigation by ESPN The Magazine and ‘E:60′ into the spread of synthetic marijuana at Auburn.”
In the case of the ESPN probe, why Auburn? LSU Heisman candidate Tyrann Mathieu became the poster boy for synthetic weed — “spice” — late last summer when he was booted from the Tiger team. Yet ESPN decided to investigate AU instead. Why? And why now?
The second question can be answered first. ESPN wanted to cash in on the national spotlight already being aimed on the Plains. No one’s talking about Roberts and the site Roopstigo.com now. They’re talking about ESPN. You can trust the network decided to push up the release of its story to take full advantage of the Auburn buzz already created by Roberts.
The answer is simple on the “Why Auburn?” front, too. Because AU’s athletic department is near the top of the NCAA’s all-time most wanted list. Its seven all-time major infractions cases rank behind only Arizona State and SMU in terms of repeated bad behavior. Also, Auburn is one of the traditional power schools in what’s currently the best conference for football in America. An SEC scandal? That’s worth a lot of pageviews and eyeballs as so many people across the country want to see the king’s crown tarnished.
Auburn’s repeat offender status ensures that the Tigers will always be a suspect. Like an ex-con who’s turned to every time a watch goes missing, AU will always have to deal with raised eyebrows and suspicious glances. The school’s athletic department has made that bed and fair or not it will always have to lie in it.
According to ESPN’s latest piece, “The 2010 national champion Auburn Tigers were gripped by an epidemic of synthetic marijuana use that led to a rash of failed drug tests and a decision at the highest levels of the university’s athletic department to keep the results confidential.” ESPN claims no parents were notified of their sons’ positive tests.
Not to be AU’s defense attorney, but let’s look at a couple of issues here. First, neither the public nor the media knew very much about the rise of synthetic marijuana use in college athletics before the aforementioned Mathieu and two other LSU players got in trouble with the stuff last summer. Yet AuburnSports.com – the Rivals site covering Auburn — reports that “sources” have confirmed to the site that “the athletic department quickly partnered with its drug-testing company to create new tests to identify the substance in athletes’ bloodstreams” back in 2010, years prior to Mathieu’s issues. At that time, Aegis Sciences Corporation of Nashville “hadn’t yet developed a test for the then-legal substance.”
Granted, a pro-Auburn site is hardly the place to turn for objective news coverage, but the site goes on to claim that a parent of a Tiger football player says he was notified when his son tested positive for the drug in 2011. Of course, the player and the parent aren’t named, so many will ignore AuburnSports.com’s “source” altogether. (Like an ex-convict or a program that’s been in NCAA trouble time and again, a website that is constantly positive in its coverage of a team won’t be trusted by non-fans.)
A second issue is the fact that schools across the country were trying to come to grips with spice in 2010 and 2011. To pick out Auburn for investigation seems — as we suggested earlier — sales- and ratings-driven.
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