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April 22, 2013

Jacobs letter dismantles Roberts report, says committee to review athletic department; Darvin Adams disputes how he was quoted

Auburn Football

BY AARON BRENNER | abrenner@ledger-enquirer.com


AUBURN, Ala. – Patient and firm, Auburn athletic director Jay Jacobs swore he’d get to the bottom of an avalanche of allegations hurled at his football program earlier this month by an off-beat reporter using the backstory of a rogue former player.

An internal investigation lasting nineteen days resulted in a hefty response by Jacobs and his team Monday morning, thoroughly dismantling reports by Roopstigo.com’s Selena Roberts with a nearly 1,000-word letter and official comment on 11 different allegations, including would-be NCAA violations.

“As the facts demonstrate, the article is clearly flawed,” Jacobs wrote. “I will continue to fight for Auburn University, and I will continue to defend this great institution against such attacks.

“As Auburn’s Athletics Director, it’s my job – no matter how proud I am of Auburn – to carefully review charges made against our program when warranted.”

Later in his letter, Jacobs also acknowledged the Tigers’ brutal athletic year – 0-8 in SEC football, and last place in men’s basketball and baseball division standings.

Jacobs, largely unpopular among fans during the struggles, announced university president Jay Gogue’s plan for a committee to check on all elements of the department, adding “We welcome this review.”

“As part of our efforts to get better, we are also committed to being as transparent as possible with our stakeholders,” Jacobs wrote. “That is why I wanted to let you know that 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.”

While numerous media reports had already poked holes in “Auburn’s Tainted Title: Victims, Violations and Vendettas for Glory”, posted April 3 on Roberts’ six-month-old web site, Jacobs’ four-paragraph statement the following day promised a comprehensive inspection.

When requested for comment by the Ledger-Enquirer, Roberts made a brief response to Monday’s release, saying “I’m working on a story on it. It’s a work-in-progress (and) I will address some of the issues Auburn raised.” adding the Monday statement was “self-revealing.”

The most serious accusation in the Roopstigo.com report alleged academic fraud, when three players said the university changed grades for up to nine players, including star tailback Michael Dyer, to keep them eligible for the 2011 BCS championship game. Defensive end Mike Blanc was quoted as saying “Auburn found a way to make those dudes eligible,” but immediately disputed his involvement in the article following its publication.

According to Jacobs, “Auburn Athletics and Auburn University Internal Auditing have completed independent reviews of the academic allegations. There is no evidence academic fraud occurred.”

An Auburn spokesperson confirmed the university worked with the NCAA on investigating the academic fraud allegations.

Specifically on Dyer, Auburn stated he passed 15 credit hours in the fall of 2010 – the NCAA student-athlete minimum is six – and carried a 2.8 GPA at the end of the semester.

The majority of Roberts’ narrative was based on information given by former safety Mike McNeil and his family. McNeil’s attorney said in the story “To show you how innocent he is, Mike is willing to go to trial because he says he didn’t do it.”

However, on April 8, McNeil entered a guilty plea bargain, accepting three years in jail and three years probation for first-degree robbery.

Auburn also provided documentation of phone records rebuking statements by McNeil’s mother, Melodie Campbell, the university cut off communication with the family.

Jacobs fiercely defended Gene Chizik, the head coach he fired Nov. 25 following the school’s worst season in 62 years.

“Coach Chizik came to Auburn with a strong record of rules compliance and a reputation as a man of the utmost character and integrity,” Jacobs said. “I have enormous respect for Coach Chizik, the way he ran his program throughout his entire tenure at Auburn and also the way he left – with dignity and class.”

Chizik made an impassioned appearance on WJOX radio in Birmingham, reiterating many points from an April 4 statement via his agents.

“Simply to the Auburn people, it’s not fair. It’s not right,” Chizik said. “But that’s why I’m here today. I care about my reputation, I care about the integrity of who I am and what I do. I’m 100 percent confident we did it right.”

Numerous players quoted by Roberts backtracked from their involvement, insisting they were misguided as to how their comments would be used.

The lone named source who had yet to respond, former receiver Darvin Adams, broke his silence Monday. Chizik’s representation released the following statement from Adams: “I was never offered any improper money by anyone at Auburn – coach or booster. I never took any improper money from anyone at Auburn – coach or booster. I was never offered any money by anyone to stay at Auburn for my senior year.”

Roberts tweeted Monday midday: “again, auburn never mentions the due process core of the story or answers questions on its role in a felony case.” Chizik’s statement April 4 indicated the university worked cooperatively with Auburn police chief Tommy Dawson, who added to the rebuttals of Roberts’ report.

Jacobs has released three statements this month on the matter, but has not been available to answer questions.

Regarding the athletic department on a broader scale, Gogue, according to Jacobs, has asked the review committee to conduct “a top-to-bottom review” of the same five factors listed as Jacobs’ specific objectives.

Those five areas are, listed in order: academics, finances, fan experience on gameday, competition and management/leadership structure.

April 8, 2013

McNeil pleads guilty to 1st-degree robbery; will serve 15-year split sentence

Mike McNeilOPELIKA, Ala. — Former Auburn defensive back Mike McNeil called an audible in court Monday, rescinding last week’s plea of not guilty and entering a plea bargain for guilty of first-degree robbery on the first day of his trial. McNeil was subsequently sentenced to a 15-year split sentence.

Lee County Circuit Judge Christopher Hughes is requiring McNeil, under the split sentence, to serve at least three years in prison plus three years of supervised probation and pay $2,000 in restitution.

McNeil and three teammates from the Tigers’ 2010 national championship team were charged with armed robbery and dismissed from the team in March 2011. Antonio Goodwin is serving a 15-year sentence while Dakota Mosley and Shaun Kitchens are awaiting trial.

Wednesday’s Roopstigo.com report by former Sports Illustrated and New York Times reporter Selena Roberts lobbed several NCAA allegations at Auburn football, including several charges by McNeil of academic fraud, pay-for-play schemes and positive drug tests around the program. McNeil had maintained his innocence in the article, which was quickly rebuked by secondary sources and former teammates Neiko Thorpe, Mike Blanc and others.

Information from the Associated Press was used in this report.

April 5, 2013

Auburn rep calls Selena Roberts report “gotcha, hide-the-ball journalism at its worst” | Poynter VP understands Roberts motive

BY AARON BRENNER | abrenner@ledger-enquirer.com


AUBURN, Ala. – While Auburn instantly released a lengthy statement disputing ESPN The Magazine’s in-depth report on the football program’s “epidemic” of using synthetic marijuana, the university waited a day to comment on the Roopstigo.com narrative Wednesday alleging NCAA violations for academic fraud and paying players.

On Friday afternoon, Auburn director of strategic communications Jack Smith produced an e-mail exchange with the Roopstigo report’s author, Selena Roberts, all within the past eight days.

Roberts’ initial request for comment from athletic director Jay Jacobs indicated she was writing a story about the four players charged with robbery and subsequently booted from the football team in March 2011 – Dakota Mosley, Shaun Kitchens, Antonio Goodwin and Mike McNeil.

However, her story made further allegations beyond the case, leaving Smith with a harsh conclusion regarding Roberts’ exposé.

“This is gotcha, hide-the-ball journalism at its worst,” said Smith, a former newspaper editor and publisher of the Eufaula Tribune. “Plain and simple.”

Auburn assistant athletic director for public relations Cassie Arner also confirmed the university was “in the dark” about Roberts making allegations until her story was released.

As far as Roberts not disclosing the entire nature of her report to Auburn, one high-ranking member of the Poynter Institute could understand Roberts’ motives.

“From what I could tell, she was following a practice that has been long-standing in investigative journalism,” said Roy Peter Clark, Vice President and Senior Scholar of Reporting, Writing & Editing for Poynter. “I’m not endorsing the method, or suggesting it’s the only way that she could have worked in this particular case.

“But what we know from generations of this kind of reporting is that to reveal too much about what you’re looking for, you give the targets of your investigation an opportunity to shut things down.”

According to its web site, “The Poynter Institute is a school dedicated to teaching and inspiring journalists and media leaders. It promotes excellence and integrity in the practice of craft and in the practical leadership of successful businesses. It stands for a journalism that informs citizens and enlightens public discourse.”

In a time-stamped e-mail Thursday, March 28, 2013 at 11:40 a.m. CT, Roberts contacted Auburn associate director of athletics Kirk Sampson.

“Hi Kirk – I’m working on a piece about the armed robbery charges involving Mosley, Kitchens, Goodwin and McNeil. After interviewing more than a dozen people about that night, I had some questions regarding Auburn University and former Coach Gene Chizik’s role in the case. I’m requesting an interview with Jay Jacobs about the information I have received. Thank you, Selena”

Smith was the Auburn representative who responded to Roberts, and his e-mail was time-stamped Monday, April 3, 2013 at 3:50 p.m. CT.

“Selena, Good afternoon. Kirk Sampson forwarded to me your email requesting an interview with Jay Jacobs about the former football players involved in the 2011 robbery. We respectfully decline the opportunity to be interviewed for your story at this time. Best of luck and thanks for reaching out to us. Respectfully, Jack”

In her report, Roberts wrote, “Auburn athletic officials declined comment when contacted by Roopstigo.”

Jay Jacobs

The second half of Jacobs’ official four-paragraph statement Thursday read as follows: “Unfortunately, the reporter who published this story did not fully represent to us what the story was about when requesting an interview. We were only told that the reporter was working on a story about the alleged armed robbery involving four former football players, which occurred over two years ago.

“We were never told the story would include allegations about academic fraud or improper benefits. Had we known that, we would have responded immediately.”

Both defensive coordinator Ellis Johnson and offensive coordinator Rhett Lashlee spoke with reporters after Friday’s spring football practice, and were asked about the Roopstigo and ESPN reports.

“I don’t know anything about it. I have no knowledge of it,” Johnson said, who was not employed by Auburn before this past November. “People above my pay grade are handling all that.”

Said Lashlee, an offensive graduate assistant at Auburn from 2009-10: “You know, our administration’s handling that. My job is to coach football. That’s all I’m really worried about. We had practice this morning, we’ve got a big-time coaches clinic going on – I’m getting ready for that – that’s all I can deal with.”

Head coach Gus Malzahn, who was offensive coordinator at 2009-11 and was named in ESPN The Magazine’s narrative, was not available to reporters Friday as previously scheduled. He next addresses the media following Saturday’s practice.

In response to Selena Roberts’ Wednesday article alleging violations, an NCAA spokesperson told the Ledger-Enquirer in a Friday morning e-mail, “The NCAA cannot comment on current, pending or potential investigations.”

McNeil’s trial is scheduled to begin Monday, with a Lee County court judge’s denial of McNeil’s attorney to withdraw from the case in Friday’s hearing, according to city reporters for AL.com and the Opelika-Auburn News. The trial will proceed based on two counts of first-degree robbery, per the reports.

April 4, 2013

Aaron Brenner commentary: Another day, another exposé drilling Auburn football

AUBURN, Ala. – One of my few rules of sports is this: a national or world championship trumps everything else.

If there’s been another recent champ that’s tested that theory more often than 2010 Auburn football: please, enlighten me.

When we read Selena Roberts’ exposé on Auburn football released Wednesday on her web site, Roopstigo.com, it wasn’t the first indictment of the program, and it likely was not the last.

Guess what? That lasted all of one day, with ESPN the Magazine’s six-month investigation concluding in detailed reports of Auburn’s synthetic drug culture during the 2010 championship season, reporting a dozen players failed tests for the designer drug without punishment.

Aaron Brenner’s Portland radio appearance, Thursday April 4

With the focus recently on shaking off 3-9 and Gus Malzahn’s new day and bidding ‘au revoir’ to Toomer’s Oaks, it’s a reminder of how some critics feel about the most cherished sports memory of your life.

Is “Auburn’s Tainted Title: Victims, Violations and Vendettas for Glory” stormy? Yeah. Revealing? Maybe, in parts. Unprecedented? Not even close.

Other organizations, from the mainstream (ESPN) to the fad blogs (Outkick the Coverage) have filed reports of Auburn bending and breaking rules to achieve that 14-0 season and bring a crystal football back to the Plains.

Around Auburn on Wednesday, fans instantly brushed off the Roopstigo report like a wayward mosquito. It’s natural to get defensive when a loved one’s attacked – be it a family member or favorite sports team – and some did. But generally, I didn’t sense panic.

Even other SEC fans, from my vantage point, didn’t seem to pour on Auburn.

However, here’s the problem with perception, my friends: sports fans and writers nationally will only read the headlines, and think, ‘same ol’ same ol’ Auburn’.

The country will continue to suspect Auburn, to some degree, cheated its way to a national championship. That needle doesn’t budge much with or without Roberts’ report – not to say it’s irrelevant, but it’s just not groundbreaking.

I have little doubt that portions of Roberts’ story hold water. Of course, she’s fallen from the good graces of Sports Illustrated and the New York Times – two of the finer journalistic palisades we have – because her Duke lacrosse sexual assault story fell flat.

But she didn’t win top press awards for nothing. And she has a right to defend her Auburn alumna status, regardless of what you think of her.

“I don’t think there’s a problem with holding your backyard accountable,” Roberts told ESPN 97.3 The Zone in Birmingham Thursday morning, speaking frequently about Auburn’s “culture of silence.”

Problem is, Roberts took zero issue with her sources turning on her faster than a three-and-out – “it’s a free country”, she sniffed on her radio appearance.

Roberts wondered, “Look at what happens to a guy who stepped outside of the system –they’re whacked. So what is it about Auburn that has a system where people have to worry about every little word they say if it’s not in lockstep with what the university wants?”

Well, the Kansas City Chiefs could care less. I can tell you from speaking to their defensive back Wednesday night, Neiko Thorpe sincerely and thoughtfully went through the multiple quotes attributed to him, and he was genuinely in shock of how his interview was used.

On a scale of 0 to 100, how on-target are Roberts and other journalists like E:60’s Shaun Assael who’ve reported Auburn misdeeds? Bland as this sounds, folks: it’s somewhere in the middle. And annoying as this is, we’ll likely never figure that out exactly.

Aaron Brenner, abrenner@ledger-enquirer.com

Chizik statement calls Roberts report “outrageous”, “absurd” and “a travesty” | AD Jacobs says of allegations “we take them seriously; we are reviewing them carefully”

Gene-Chizik-7642 (1)BY AARON BRENNER | abrenner@ledger-enquirer.com


AUBURN, Ala. – Joining the chorus of former Auburn figures slamming Selena Roberts’ long-form report accusing the football program of misdeeds and NCAA violations, ex-head coach Gene Chizik released a two-page statement Thursday via his representation in response to the allegations levied against him.

Auburn athletic director Jay Jacobs, a day after declining comment, also released a short statement declaring the university takes the accusations seriously and will review them carefully, while maintaining Roberts misled the university on her motives for writing the story.

Only adding to the firestorm surrounding Auburn football was ESPN the Magazine and E:60 Thursday afternoon, alleging the university kept positive drug tests secret during the 2010 championship season.

Roberts’ narrative, “Auburn’s Tainted Title: Victims, Violations and Vendettas for Glory,” was published Wednesday on her web site, Roopstigo.com. Roberts is a former Sports Illustrated and New York Times reporter, as well as an Auburn graduate who in 2005 reported Auburn team chaplain Chette Williams was paid by school boosters.

Her latest report accused the program of many wrongdoings under Chizik’s watch from 2009-2012, including and not limited to the school bullying counselors into fixing transcripts to keep football players academically eligible for the 2011 BCS National Championship, former coaches offering and giving players money both for personal use and entertainment for hosting recruits, and forcing Auburn city police to mislead parents of players charged with armed robbery in March 2011.

About 24 hours after the report’s publication, Chizik’s agents, Russ Campbell and Patrick Strong of Balch Sports, sent the Ledger-Enquirer among other media outlets a six-paragraph response from Chizik, who remains without a coaching position and living in Auburn since his firing Nov. 25 following a 3-9 season.

“Ms. Roberts’ story is long on accusation and inference, but short on facts and logic,” Chizik’s statement read. “The statements are very generalized accusations devoid of substance.”

Chizik’s statement begins by referring to a previous NCAA multi-year investigation into the recruitment of Heisman Trophy-winning quarterback Cam Newton, of which the NCAA found no violations for alleged pay-for-play schemes involving Newton.

“Unfortunately, the recent story published by Selena Roberts is more of the same,” Chizik said. “During my time at Auburn, the administrators, professors and academic staff were of the highest integrity. Additionally, the inference that there was academic support staff that worked together with professors to change grades is absurd.”

Chizik sticks up for the Auburn police department, which Roberts alleged had kept certain details hidden from the family of former safety Mike McNeil the day Chizik kicked him off the team for robbery charges. McNeil’s trial was scheduled for next week, before his attorney filed to withdraw from the case Wednesday.

“I remain part of the Auburn family and take these attacks on myself, the University and community seriously,” Chizik said.

Former defensive coordinator Will Muschamp was accused in the story of giving McNeil $400 following a team practice. The story indicated Florida denied the payment, a Florida spokesman reiterated the denial when contacted Wednesday, and Muschamp directly told the Gainesville Sun, “Totally deny it. I don’t know where this is coming from” on Thursday.

“If there is a sad truth here, it is that there is no repercussions for bloggers who blast out widespread, venomous allegations and inferences in such an irresponsible manner. To make bold and outrageous conclusions on such thin support is a travesty,” Chizik said.

His statement concluded: “During my tenure as Auburn’s head coach, we kept the well-being of our student-athletes at the forefront of every decision. We ran our program with the highest level of integrity and accountability. Period. I make absolutely no apologies for that … As I stated during the NCAA investigation, I am comforted knowing that the truth always prevails.”

The NCAA has declined comment regarding any potential investigations stemming from the reporting of Roberts, who on ESPN and radio appearances stand behind her story.

AUBURN FOOTBALLJacobs’ statement followed Chizik’s by a couple of hours, indicating Auburn will review the allegations carefully “as a matter of procedure.”

“Anytime accusations are made against Auburn, we take them seriously. We have no reason to believe these allegations are either accurate or credible.”

Jacobs pointed out Wednesday’s response by quoted players in Roberts’ story, when Neiko Thorpe, Mike Blanc, Daren Bates and Antoine publically rebuked how their interviews were used.

“Unfortunately, the reporter who published this story did not fully represent to us what the story was about when requesting an interview. We were only told that the reporter was working on a story about the alleged armed robbery involving four former football players, which occurred over two years ago.”

“We were never told the story would include allegations about academic fraud or improper benefits. Had we known that, we would have responded immediately with the statement above.”

ESPN and E:60 filmed an interview with former tight end Dakota Mosley, who was booted from the team along with McNeil for the same charges, speaking about the team’s use of a form of synthetic marijuana called “spice.”

“The whole time I was thinking, ‘They can’t do nothing about the spice’,” Mosley said, according to ESPN.

ESPN the Magazine, which reported about half the 2010 team used spice, also spoke with Jacobs about the designer drug.

“We did all we could do to educate our student-athletes until (we) could understand exactly what we’re dealing with,” Jacobs said. “I think just like the rest of the campus, and the nation, we were trying to figure out.”

Cam Newton’s name was only mentioned twice in Roberts’ story, neither in incendiary fashion regarding his own recruitment or behavior at Auburn.

The 2010 Heisman Trophy winner was quoted in an interview for his clothing line MADE Cam Newton as saying “I’m going to let the right people talk about it … of course I’m concerned, but I think the truth will come out”, according to AL.com.

Head coach Gus Malzahn, who was not mentioned in Roberts’ report and was the Tigers’ offensive coordinator during the title season, has not commented himself. Coordinators Ellis Johnson and Rhett Lashlee, but not Malzahn, are expected to be available to media following Friday’s spring football practice.

Full statement by former coach Gene Chizik calls Roberts report “outrageous” & “absurd”

Photo by Todd Van Emst

Photo by Todd Van Emst

BY AARON BRENNER | abrenner@ledger-enquirer.com


AUBURN, Ala. – The complete statement from Gene Chizik, Former Auburn Head Football Coach, released by his representation Thursday, April 4, 2013:

“During my tenure at Auburn, the NCAA conducted a multi-year investigation into the Auburn football program that they called ‘fair and thorough.’ The NCAA focused intently on widespread accusations about Auburn players being paid and other alleged recruiting violations. The NCAA conducted 80 interviews. In October 2011, the NCAA rejected ‘rampant public speculation online and in the media.’ Unfortunately, the recent story published by Selena Roberts is more of the same. It once again portrays Auburn University, current and former coaches, professors, fans, supporters and community officials in a false light.”

“Unfortunately, Ms. Roberts’ story is long on accusation and inference, but short on facts and logic. It is noteworthy that the story comes just days before a player mentioned most prominently in the article is set to go to trial for felony armed robbery. The statements are very generalized accusations devoid of substance. During my time as Auburn’s head coach, I never authorized, instructed or directed anyone to change any player’s grade or provide any type of illegal payment by any member of my coaching staff, support staff or anyone else.”

“As for logic, the notion that the conduct inferred by Ms. Roberts was occurring under the NCAA’s nose, at the very same time the NCAA is conducting its thorough investigation, lacks merit. Further, the notion that there was ever an attempt to sabotage any Auburn student-athlete’s attempt to play professional football is outrageous. Auburn’s success in transitioning student-athletes to the NFL benefits both the student-athlete and the Auburn program.”

“I remain part of the Auburn family and take these attacks on myself, the University and community seriously. During my time at Auburn, the administrators, professors and academic staff were of the highest integrity. Additionally, the inference that there was academic support staff that worked together with professors to change grades is absurd. As an Auburn resident, I take great pride in the quality and integrity of our police department. They enforce the law equally and fairly and my dealings with police Chief Tommy Dawson and his staff have been nothing short of excellent. He has handled many high profile cases with the (utmost) integrity and professionalism. To imply anything otherwise is simply wrong.”

“If there is a sad truth here, it is that there is no repercussions for bloggers who blast out widespread, venomous allegations and inferences in such an irresponsible manner. To make bold and outrageous conclusions on such thin support is a travesty.”

During my tenure as Auburn’s head coach, we kept the well-being of our student-athletes at the forefront of every decision. We ran our program with the highest level of integrity and accountability. Period. I make absolutely no apologies for that. I stand firm in my statements, my support of Auburn University, its student-athletes (present and former), faculty, staff and community officials. As I stated during the NCAA investigation, I am comforted knowing that the truth always prevails.”

April 3, 2013

Report by former SI, New York Times writer alleges Auburn wrongdoings; Thorpe, other ex-Tigers quoted vehemently condemn article

Neiko Thorpe2

BY AARON BRENNER | abrenner@ledger-enquirer.com


AUBURN, Ala. — A report published Wednesday by Selena Roberts, a former Sports Illustrated and New York Times reporter, took more than 4,000 words to lob exhaustive charges toward the Auburn football program.

Multiple quoted ex-Tigers required much less verbiage to swiftly condemn how their remarks were used contextually in response.

“I can’t,” said former defensive back Neiko Thorpe, asked to make sense of the report as one of six former Tigers quoted. “I’m just trying to clear my name up and let Auburn fans and Auburn nation know the things that were said in that report were not my words.”

The narrative “Auburn’s Tainted Title: Victims, Violations and Vendettas” was posted Wednesday by Roopstigo.com. Roberts, the website’s founder and CEO and an Auburn graduate, is notable for previous SI and NYT work on Alex Rodriguez’s steroid usage and the Duke lacrosse team’s sexual assault scandal of 2006.

Wednesday’s report focuses on former Auburn safety Mike McNeil, who faces robbery charges stemming from a March 2011 arrest, two months after Auburn won the BCS national championship.

McNeil’s family presents its description of the circumstances involving McNeil’s role in the incident, including an account of Auburn University’s and then-head coach Gene Chizik’s handling of the matter.

The report went on to allege academic fraud, pay-for-play incentives and positive drug testing via conversations with players, both named and unnamed.

Former Auburn players Thorpe, Daren Bates, Mike Blanc, Darvin Adams and Antoine Carter are quoted in the story along with McNeil.

Neiko Thorpe

Thorpe, entering his second year with the Kansas City Chiefs and the only active NFL player of the bunch, told the Ledger-Enquirer Wednesday night he spoke with Roberts “a couple weeks ago” and was misled as to the article’s intent.

“She explained to me she was doing a story on Mike McNeil, and basically it was a story trying to be good information about him, just telling what a good person he was,” Thorpe said. “She told me she was just trying to do a good story on Mike – a character story, letting people know what kind of person he was.”

Thorpe – who said he hasn’t kept in touch with McNeil while focusing on his NFL career – denounced Roberts’ use of multiple quotes.

Adams said he was offered an undisclosed amount of “financial incentives,” and McNeil said he was given $500 to “entertain blue-chip (recruit) Dre Kirkpatrick.” (Kirkpatrick signed and play for Alabama.) Thorpe was quoted as saying “A special recruit was treated like a king.”

thorpe_neikoThorpe told the Ledger-Enquirer, “I was talking to her about recruits, and she asked me personally about my recruiting process. I let her know that you can’t just base your recruiting off just a visit – you’ve got to look at other things, such as being around the players, because that’s who you’re going to be around the most, and not just the coaching, because coaches can switch up at any time or any year. So that’s why going through my recruiting process I chose Auburn.”

In the framework of Roberts describing the university’s “underground society beneath the NCAA’s radar”, Thorpe was quoted as saying “Auburn does whatever Auburn wants.”

To that, Thorpe rebuked, “No. I don’t recall saying that. I don’t even know what kind of question would make me say that.”

The opening segment details a timeline presented by McNeil’s mother and grandfather the afternoon of March 11, 2011, when Chizik kicked McNeil and three teammates off the team for robbery charges. A starting safety for the championship squad, McNeil has maintained his innocence throughout, awaiting his trial scheduled to begin Monday — though the Opelika-Auburn News reported Wednesday his attorney, Ben Hand, has filed to withdraw from representation.

According to Roberts, coaches told Auburn players they could lose their scholarship if they contacted any of the accused players. Thorpe was quoted as saying, “Mike was like a brother. I wanted to talk to my brother. I’m sure with all that was going on, he felt betrayed.”

Thorpe said he was napping when Roberts’ report came out, and after an evening workout was stunned to be made aware of how his interview was used.

“She just took what I said, I guess, and tried to … make it to a story she wanted,” Thorpe said, “because it wasn’t even the story she told me what she was reporting about. It was kind of crazy when I had a chance to read it and see what she put wasn’t true.”

Thorpe was named Auburn’s “Defensive Most Valuable Player” in 2011. He was bestowed that same year with the Shug Jordan Award, which reads, “Down through the years, outstanding Auburn football players have become outstanding citizens. Knowing this truth, and having a deep abiding faith in these men, I am proud to honor Auburn University’s outstanding senior football player with this award.”

Asked if he had any reason to scath his alma mater, Thorpe insisted, “I don’t. That’s why I’m trying to clear my name up because I had a great time at Auburn my four years, and I have memories I’ll never forget.”

Gene ChizikAn Auburn spokesperson stated to the Ledger-Enquirer on behalf of the athletic department, “We will not have a comment regarding the claims in the story.”

Chizik, Auburn University and Auburn police all declined to comment.

Former defensive coordinator Will Muschamp (now Florida’s head coach) is reported to have offered McNeil $400 cash after a 2007 practice. A Florida spokesperson Wednesday evening reiterated the university’s denial of Muschamp’s alleged payment from the article.

Bates, who graduates this year, had only one quote in the report, regarding McNeil: “He was the best teammate you could imagine. He took me under his wing. He would draw up defenses. And we’d watch film. He was a mentor to everyone.”

Bates initially responded to a Twitter follower’s question about Roberts, “I don’t even know who that is.” An hour later, Bates tweeted, “The one thing that is quoted by me is what I said, no more no less..END OF STORY”

Roberts made other allegations leading up to the 2010 season, including:

• Three players were told before the BCS championship victory over Oregon that up to nine teammates would be ruled academically ineligible, including star running back Michael Dyer, before unnamed school counselors fixed transcripts to keep them on the field. Said Blanc, “We thought we would be without Mike Dyer because he said he was one of them, but Auburn found a way to make those dudes eligible.”

• Several players indicated Chizik asked them to cut their dreadlocks in fear of being targeted by police.

• A trailer home on Wire Road was a frequent source of synthetic marijuana distributed to players, the scene of the crime scene involving McNeil, Antonio Goodwin (since found guilty and jailed 15 years), Dakota Mosley and Shaun Kitchens. The article stated “more than 40 players tested positive for recreational drugs after the national championship.”

A couple hours after the article’s release, Blanc tweeted, “Man this article is outrageous and isn’t true. The media will do anything for a juicy story smh #sad”

This is not Roberts’ first story regarding Auburn football. In January 2005 — shortly following Auburn’s undefeated season led by then-coach Tommy Tuberville — she penned a New York Times article reporting team chaplain Chette Williams (still working for the Auburn support staff) was paid by boosters in addition to the Fellowship of Christian Athletes.

The entire report can be found here.

March 22, 2013

Harvey Updyke pleads guilty to poisoning Toomer’s Oaks, gets 3 years in prison

UpdykeAssociated Press

OPELIKA, Ala. (AP) — The Alabama fan who poisoned the iconic Toomer’s Corner oak trees at rival Auburn has been sentenced to three years in prison.

Court filings Friday show that Harvey Updyke Jr. pleaded guilty to desecrating a venerated object and damaging an animal or crop facility. The sentence requires him to serve at least six months in jail and spend five years on supervised probation. He has been credited with 104 days already served.

Lee County Circuit Judge Jacob A. Walker III also fined Updyke $1,000. The probation terms include a 7 p.m. curfew and prohibit Updyke from going onto Auburn’s campus or attending a college sporting event.

Auburn fans traditionally gather at Toomer’s Corner to celebrate victories. The resolution ends a case that highlighted the emotions in the year-round rivalry.

January 18, 2013

Brenner: Sports scandals are sad tales of heroes and hoaxes

AUBURN, Ala. — Call it the Michael Jackson factor.

Or Britney Spears, or Lindsay Lohan, or the Olsen twins.

Does the American public more enjoy watching a darling rise to grace, or a rascal in disgrace? A shooting star, or a falling star? A fairy tale made for Disney, or a scandal made for TMZ?

More often than not, especially in sports, it’s hard to tell.

We cheered Mark McGwire and Sammy Sosa as they battered home run after home run, chasing and ultimately clubbing baseball’s most hallowed record. Of course, their accomplishments were just a hoax, aided by performance-enhancing drugs.

We cheered Lance Armstrong as he became the world’s most dominant cyclist, vindicating his sport as relevant in the United States with a closetful of yellow jerseys. Of course, his accomplishments were just a hoax, aided by performance-enhancing drugs.

We thought Danny Almonte was genuine, a super-duper stud baseball pitcher taking Little League by storm advanced beyond his years. Except as it turns out, he wasn’t — deceit about his age tarnished whatever legacy he’d crafted.

We thought Joe Paterno was genuine, a god among college football coaches who more importantly than winning oodles of games was the eternal teacher, looking out for the best interests of young men. Except as it turns out, he wasn’t — deceit about his right-hand man’s interaction with young boys tarnished whatever legacy he’d crafted.

We admired Tiger Woods, Brett Favre and Michael Phelps as the Golden Boys of their sports. Until deep, dark secrets about their personal lifestyles came to light, and we never viewed them as heroes the same way again.

We admired Andre Agassi, Serena Williams and Phelps as ambassadors of their sports. Until deep, dark secrets about their hatred for their craft, how it was merely a means to an end, came to light, and we never viewed them as heroes the same way again.

And now, the unbelievable, the unthinkable, the can’t-wrap-your-mind-around-the-revelation that is this Manti Te’o story.

For as much attention as Te’o drew to himself, his university and his heritage as a Samoan and Mormon man who happens to be very, very good at playing linebacker, he’ll be remembered five times more for the Deadspin report and subsequent nationwide coverage that Te’o’s girlfriend, a leading subject of Te’o’s emotional tale during Notre Dame’s run to the BCS championship game, never existed.

She was a hoax.

Much like too much else in sports.

We’re all sports fans. Which means we’re united in that to whatever degree you choose, we crave greatness.

We want to believe Nick Saban, Mike Krzyzewski and Pat Summitt have adorned their trophy cases on the strength of their character, not their NCAA violations.

We want to watch Kevin Sumlin and Brad Stevens grow into incredible coaches for many, many years, but also serve as role models for even longer.

We want to see LeBron James and Johnny Manziel make mistakes and redeem themselves when given a second chance.

We want to root for Derek Jeter and Jimmie Johnson, for Rory McIlroy and Bryce Harper, for Usain Bolt and the U.S. Gymnastics team.

We want to be captivated by Chuckstrong.

Which, come to think of it, is a term conceived out of another that was uncovered as a lie in and of itself.

Is nothing sacred?

We sure hope that’s not the case.

More often than not, it’s hard to tell.

Aaron Brenner, abrenner@ledger-enquirer.com

September 30, 2012

Auburn notes: WR/PR Quan Bray suspended for Arkansas game, Holland cuts curls

AUBURN, Ala. – Auburn head coach Gene Chizik suspended sophomore wide receiver and punt returner Quan Bray for at least Saturday’s game against Arkansas, the consequence for Bray’s off-field actions during the Tigers’ bye week.

Bray, 19, was arrested by University of West Georgia police Thursday after being pulled over for loud music, and being found to have a limited driver’s permit and possession of a bottle of alcohol.

Chizik praised Bray, a Troup County product, for his maturity last summer – when his mother was fatally shot in July 2011 in Lagrange and his father was charged with the murder – but maintained there were repercussions for stepping out of line.

“The reality is that Quan, for the last year and a half, has really had a lot of challenges,” Chizik said. “He’s been a great teammate, he’s been an honor roll student. I’m proud of the way in the last year and a half that he’s carried himself and the way he’s overcome a lot of adversity.

“Unfortunately, he made a bad decision this weekend, and what comes with that is consequences, so he won’t be playing in the game this week, and I’ll let you know when he’s going to be back out on the field. But it certainly won’t be against Arkansas.”

Sophomore Trovon Reed and freshman Ricardo Louis will be candidates to replace Bray in the punt return game and as slot receiver.

Bray ranks third on the Tigers with 11 catches for 82 yards. He has returned five punts for 23 yards, and had a critical fumble in Auburn’s previous game against LSU.

Bray was unavailable for comment Sunday.

“He understands that consequences happen when you make bad decisions,” Chizik said. “Every situation’s different, and I’m not going to go into the details of all of it. But he’s not going to play this week, and when he becomes able to participate, I’ll let you guys know.”

This is Auburn’s third suspension of the season for off-field run-ins, following center Reese Dismukes and wide receiver DeAngelo Benton.

“Part of our job as coaches is to help young guys grow up. That’s part of my job. In a perfect world, you don’t want any of these things to happen,” Chizik said. “But my job, as well as winning football games, is to help young guys come in here as boys at 18 and grow into men when they leave at 22. That’s what our goal is with any guys that make a decision that is not what you want. A high percentage of guys on our football team do exactly what we ask them to do.”

No overlooking: Auburn is a 10-point favorite over Arkansas, but the Tigers won’t disrespect a team which was ranked No. 8 less than a month ago.

“If we can go in there and throw the ball around, that would be a good boost for our confidence,” senior tight end Philip Lutzenkirchen said. “We’re not taking them lightly – there was a reason they were picked to be in national championship contention at the beginning of the year, so we’ve got our hands full.”

Sophomore quarterback Kiehl Frazier took note of how other teams have gashed Arkansas’ 120th-rated defense, but knows this won’t be a cake walk.

“(Texas A&M freshman quarterback) Johnny Manziel did a good job this weekend, and they scored 58 points,” said Frazier, from Springdale, Ark. “But we can’t base our preparation on what they did. They have a good team, they just haven’t played to their potential so far.”

Homecoming: Freshman quarterback Jonathan Wallace went back to his stomping grounds in Phenix City to watch his Central Red Devils beat East Coweta 33-31 on Friday night.

Wallace won’t redshirt this season, after his first game action a week ago Saturday when he ran three times for 15 yards, including a pair of first downs against LSU.

“It’s a lot of love. When you’re going good, people will love you up,” Wallace said. “I just have to stay humble, continue to work hard and be productive for our team.”

Fresh cut: A long time ago, linebacker Jake Holland and safety Trent Fisher decided they wouldn’t cut their hair for an extended period of time.

They settled on a year.

That was two and a half years ago.

Over the bye week, Holland had his curly locks chopped off, and plans to donate “about three or four pounds” of hair, which is currently at his home in Birmingham. He hasn’t decided where yet, either to Locks of Love or Pantene.

Holland added Fisher hasn’t yet gone to the shears.