1. allegedly offering a bribe to a draft-eligible player, Darvin Adams, to come back for his senior season (Adams wouldn’t give a specific amount)
2. allegedly violating the NCAA-mandated $50 per diem when entertaining recruits (Mike McNeil alleges a coach gave him $500 to entertain Dre Kirkpatrick on his visit)
3. allegedly committing academic fraud to maintain eligibility (Mike McNeil offers himself as an example before the season in which a grade was changed from an F to a C; also, reportedly Michael Dyer was among nine players that were supposed to be academically ineligible for the BCS title game)
4. allegedly paying players (Mike McNeil offered an example in which Will Muschamp gave him $400 after having a difficult day at practice; Muschamp has since denied the report)
5. allegedly having more than 40 players fail drug test after the BCS title game.
If all of these turn out to be true, it would likely lead to a “failure to monitor” or a “lack of institutional control” NCAA allegation. However, if any one of them turn out to be true, I would consider them to be pretty significant in the NCAA’s view. Personally, I hope they aren’t true, because I love the game. I love college football. I’d prefer to have every team at full strength and have a postseason to strive for, and NCAA sanctions always put that in jeopardy. I have a few more thoughts on this situation:
1. Let’s address Selena Roberts. Selena Roberts' credibility has certainly been brought into question before, specifically with her early coverage of the Duke lacrosse scandal and her opinions of, and accusations against, the "culture" of the Duke Athletics Department (the accuser was found to be lying about the incident and the DA made many mistakes as well). Knowing this, I'm sure this will be the first point of attack for many wanting to defend Auburn here. I can't blame them because it's a valid response; they're right to be skeptical. I also know that a couple of the quoted players (Mike Blanc and Nieko Thorpe) in her piece have subsequently claimed they were misquoted. Perhaps the heat that social media brings is stronger than they expected; perhaps they regret not insisting on anonymity. I'd like to point out, though, that Roberts is an Auburn alum and it is from that institution that she received her journalism degree. While it's not impossible, I find it odd that she'd go out of her way to expose her alma mater to potential NCAA sanctions that could result in a stripped championship without merit (especially being aware of the criticism she received from the Duke fiasco). Of course, I don't know Ms. Roberts, so I can't be sure either way. Even if the five allegations listed above turn out to be untrue, or unable to be proven, the story of McNiel’s arrest (as Roberts tells it) and how the coaching staff handled it is an unfortunate one. I can’t condone their communication with McNeil’s parents after his arrest -- leaving them in limbo and going to the press before letting them know how their son was doing.
2. Good … or bad timing? When this report first surfaced, I thought that even if the allegations were true, that Auburn may have caught a break in the timing. The NCAA is under intense scrutiny regarding their allegedly rampant misconduct in the Miami case. Several members of the NCAA have been fired and "The U" is striving for an unprecedented resolution: dismissal of the infractions case. Just a few weeks ago, Miami was attempting to persuade the NCAA to simply rule that their self-inflicted punishments would be sufficient (2 missed postseasons and some recruiting limitations), but now that it looks like Miami may have them against the ropes, and are going out for a Mike Tyson punch-out. Whether Miami is granted the dismissal or not, I thought Auburn may gain by the controversy because the NCAA may be a little gun-shy heading into a new investigation because every move they make therein will be watched and scrutinized. On the other hand, it could be poor timing. Due to the controversy, the NCAA may actually put more manpower into this investigation and expend more effort to show that they can properly conduct an investigation, be thorough, and still "get their guy". Will they tread lightly because of recent events, or will it turn up their intensity? Time will tell, but it should be interesting.
3. The Crystal Ball Three: Mike McNeil, Darvin Adams, and Michael Dyer. If I’m an Auburn fan, these are almost the last three players I want to be involved in any kind of allegations. Mike McNeil led the Tigers in tackles in the BCS title game along with a sack and saved a touchdown with a stop. Michael Dyer was the Offensive Player of the Game and the focal point of one the most memorable BCS Championship Game plays ever. Remember the run, on Auburn’s game-winning drive, when Dyer, the defense, the fans, and seemingly the rest of the world thought the play was dead and then he went on to gain an additional 23 yards to the Oregon 23-yard line? Sure you do. We all do. Darvin Adams had a mediocre game, with a mere 54 yards receiving, but he had a huge impact on the game. How, you ask? He’s the one who told Dyer to keep running! If any of these allegations turn out to be true, Auburn fans have to be asking: why these three guys? The only allegation that may not cost them the crystal ball is the one alleging that Adams was offered money to stay on instead of entering the NFL Draft (he went undrafted) because that really had no impact on the game and sounds like it happened afterwards. If Dyer shouldn’t have been eligible due to academics or McNeil shouldn’t have been eligible due academics and/or taking money, that crystal ball will be down in the BCS’s basement alongside USC’s.
4. In Gus We Trust? Malzahn was an offensive assistant under Chizik for three years and is now beginning his first season as Auburn's head coach. He'll be bombarded with questions for the remainder of spring practice regarding these allegations because he was part of the Chizik regime. After all, the natural thinking is that Dyer was his second-best offensive player (behind Cam Newton) at Auburn and Dyer even followed him to Arkansas State, so surely Malzahn would know if they had to take measures to make him eligible for the title game. Malzahn, was never mentioned in Roberts' report, but that doesn't mean he won't be asked now. Players currently on the team who played under Chizik will be asked about improper benefits and academic fraud all season too. What effect will these distractions have on Malzahn's attempt to help the Tigers rebound from a season last year in which they were winless in conference play and 3-8 overall? It's tough to say. It was an uphill challenge already, and this situation seemingly makes the hill a bit steeper. It also makes one curious as to whether this was the reason Malzahn completely cleaned house when assembling his staff -- leaving no remnants of the Chizik era. Malzahn dismissed quite a few players from his Arkansas State team upon his arrival (and eventually dismissed Dyer as well) and he's already dismissed a few since taking over the Tigers' squad. Perhaps he not only varies from Chizik in on-field football philosophies but also wants to run a program differently than his former boss -- that's pure speculation of course. It's interesting to think about, however.
5. Breaking the rules -- let’s think about it. I know that one of the natural reactions for fans when their team is accused of NCAA violations is to go to the "everyone does it" defense. I've never been a fan of this defense because it wouldn't hold water in any other venue. I like to use speeding tickets as an example. If Billy gets pulled over for speeding and upon the officer's arrival at the window, he says, "Officer, that guy in the blue car right there was going even faster than me!", does that mean Billy wasn't speeding? Of course not. Billy will still get a ticket because he broke the rules regardless of his not being the only, or even the worst-offending, rule breaker. Everyone knows that by sheer numbers (there are 124 FBS teams) that the accused football team at the time cannot be the only team committing NCAA violations or even those exact NCAA violations. Sometimes you're Billy and sometimes you're the blue car. Of the alleged violations in this case, the one that concerns me the most is the academic fraud allegations. We all have our opinions on whether these athletes should get paid (beyond scholarships, room, and board), or even if there's a fair or plausible way to do so, so we'll leave that alone for now. The recruiting violation would concern me more if they were giving money directly to the recruit -- an entertainment per diem seems unimportant comparatively. Grades, however, that seems like a pretty big deal for a couple of reasons. First, there has been academic requirements for eligibility for as long as I can remember (although, admittedly they're a little more lenient, especially when it comes to required hours, for "one-and-done" basketball players). Second, these kids are referred to as student-athletes, even if it is mostly so that the NCAA can maintain their tax-free amateur status. The NCAA always shows those commercials announcing that the majority of NCAA athletes will go pro in something other than sports -- but if academics can be fudged, that means very little.
Bottom line: It could very well be that this merely a man about to go on trial trying to garner sympathy from the jury pool. It could very well be that every word in Ms. Robert's report is true (although, for her sake, I hope she tape recorded her interviews). It could be somewhere in the middle where some of this is true and some is exaggerated. It's far too early to tell. What I do think is that college football fans across the nation will join me in hoping that none of it is true, or I'd like to think they will. I'm a college football fan first, and a Buckeyes fan second.