Auburn athletics needs to clean up its act and figure out what they want to be

The phone call came a few years ago, from a respected national journalist who usually covers a sport other than college football but needed background information regarding yet another scandal on the other side of the state.

He wanted to know about the latest accusations of cheating, what was being said and if there was any chance of solid proof emerging. Even before I could differentiate between what I had heard and what I knew, he asked the question that has been in the back of my mind ever since:

“Isn’t that Auburn’s m.o.?”

I’ve been a journalist since 1990, having covered everything from two Super Bowls to the Stanley Cup Playoffs, and all over the country. I know what the perception is of Auburn nearly everywhere else, and it’s not favorable. Yes, the Tigers are good in a lot of sports, but their reputation is awful.

Ask sports fans from anywhere off the Plains to name the most corrupt athletic program in the nation and you’ll likely get a smattering of different answers.

But there’s  a short list and it includes Auburn.

This isn’t to argue that it is the most corrupt, or not. The answer is irrelevant because the perception is the important thing for this discussion. Consequently the university has no one to blame for that but itself.

Technically, Auburn athletics hasn’t had a major NCAA violation since 2004. Meanwhile Georgia, Mississippi State, Missouri, South Carolina, Arkansas, Alabama, LSU, Tennessee, Florida and Ole Miss have all been cited for something, some more than once. Most of have been incidents isolated to one sport, while Ole Miss went in front of the NCAA Committee on Infractions in September.

But there always seems to be something at Auburn. All along there have been more than eagles circling over the Plains.

It hired basketball coach Bruce Pearl, who arrived at Auburn while under an NCAA show-cause order for his numerous transgressions that got him fired at Tennessee. Now the program is in disarray after the FBI recently charged Auburn assistant basketball coach Chuck Person with six federal crimes including bribery and fraud.

Auburn athletics-Auburn basketball-Chuck Person
Chuck Person was a two-time All-American and a three-time All-SEC selection (Benjamin Wolk/SEC Country).

It hired Clint Myers to turn the softball program around, only now a Title IX sexual discrimination complaint has been filed, claiming “Coach Clint Myers knowingly let his son, Corey Myers, have relations and pursue relations with multiple members of the team.” Corey Myers was one of his assistant coaches and both were allowed to step down.

On Wednesday, ESPN reported that Auburn had hired a law firm to investigate allegations that a part-time academic support staffer took a final exam for at least one football player from the 2015 team. The school denied the fraud claim, but Lightfoot, Franklin & White of Birmingham was also hired to serve as an independent party to examine the ongoing basketball and softball scandals.

That firm is making a lot of money off Auburn athletics.

The tutor accusation appears to be the least damaging, but the latest in a long line of troubling academic incidents. A Google search of “Auburn academic scandal” calls up 275,000 results, and may not even include former running back James Brooks testifying in court years ago that despite graduating he was illiterate.

There was the sociology scandal in 2006, during which hundreds of students improperly boosted their grades with an easy independent study course.

In 2013, a report indicated that Auburn had paid players and altered grades leading into the 2011 BCS national championship game, including running back Michael Dyer.

In 2015, the athletic department overruled the faculty about discontinuing a major due to half of the students enrolled in it being athletes.

All this is really nothing new. We’re talking decades of scandal, after scandal, after scandal, and the outcomes come across like reading the directions off a shampoo bottle: Lather, rinse, repeat. Auburn looks into the issue, denies any wrongdoing and without subpoena power the NCAA can’t pin anything down.

Cam Newton was a perfect example. The NCAA couldn’t prove he knew his father had been shopping his services around, and with former Mississippi State player Kenny Rogers demanding between $120,000 to $180,000 for the quarterback to sign with the Bulldogs out of junior college.

Auburn football-Cam Newton-Auburn in NFL
Former Auburn quarterback Cam Newton won the 2010 Heisman Trophy and now plays for the Carolina Panthers (Grant Halverson/Getty Images).

The NCAA eventually ended the investigation due to insufficient evidence. However, in the court of public opinion Newton and Auburn clearly lost, and no one was surprised.

When the Tigers finished 12-0 in 2004, it marked not the first or second time Auburn went undefeated the same year the athletic program was placed on NCAA probation, but the third time.

After being placed on three years probation for improper recruiting inducements in 1957, the Tigers went undefeated and won their first national championship. The following year, the program was cited again and consequently banned from all NCAA voting and committee privileges, and television, until its probation concluded.

In 1993, the NCAA ruled that football player Eric Ramsey had received improper gifts from coaches and boosters, leading to Pat Dye retiring early. Terry Bowden’s first team subsequently finished 11-0, 8-0 in the SEC, but was unable to claim the conference title or play in a bowl.

He eventually confirmed the existence of the black ledger, listing players who were getting paid under the table. College football writer Matt Hayes, formerly of The Sporting News and currently of Bleacher Report, has written about seeing it.

The 2004 men’s basketball team was accused of offering thousands of dollars and cars to two men’s basketball prospects, with a summer AAU sponsor/coach acting as a booster or representative of a university.

Most NCAA major infractions

  • SMU 10
  • Arizona State 9
  • Oklahoma 8
  • Wichita State 8
  • Auburn 7
  • Baylor 7
  • Florida State 7
  • Texas A&M 7
  • California 7
  • UCLA 7
  • Georgia  7
  • Memphis 7
  • Minnesota 7
  • Wisconsin 7
  • West Virginia 7

While other accusations led to nothing, school officials flying secretly to Louisville to try and hire Bobby Petrino in 2003, when Tommy Tuberville was still under contract, couldn’t be ignored. It resulted in university president William F. Walker being forced out, athletic director Davis Housel stepping down and Auburn being placed on probation by the Southern Association of Colleges and Schools (SACS), which meant it was one step away from losing its accreditation.

Yet embarrassing allegations continue to come at a regular pace. All over athletics.

The students, teachers and alumni — and yes, the SEC — deserve better.

Auburn needs to get its priorities in order and leadership that believes in its own creed, which includes words like honesty, trustfulness, respect and the term “clean sports.”

The post Auburn athletics needs to clean up its act and figure out what they want to be appeared first on SEC Country.

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