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August 30, 2013

Auburn football: Season ticket sales down 4.7 percent compared to last year

BY RYAN BLACK | rblack@ledger-enquirer.com

@wareagleextra | Like the blog on Facebook

AUBURN, Ala. — Everybody loves a winner.

That’s what Jay Jacobs is banking on, anyway. Auburn’s athletic director said Thursday that the school’s ticket sales are down 4.7 percent compared to the same point last year. The Tigers’ average attendance was 82,646 per game last season, its lowest mark since 2000.

Auburn's season ticket sales are down 4.7 percent compared to this point last year. The Tigers averaged 82,646 fans per game in 2012, its lowest mark since 2000. (File photo)

Auburn’s season ticket sales are down 4.7 percent compared to this point last year. The Tigers averaged 82,646 fans per game in 2012, its lowest mark since 2000. (File photo)

But if Auburn starts to turn things around after its 3-9 showing in 2012, Jacobs believes that number will start to trend upward again.

“Why would you want to pay a TUF (Tigers Unlimited Fund) and the price of the ticket if you know you can walk out on the street and get them?” he said. “ … We certainly expect if we’re successful on the field Saturday, we’ll probably end up selling out.”

The 4.7 percent decrease in tickets sales adds up to about $600,000 in lost revenue. Jacobs mentioned the Tigers are “at an all-time high” with premium seats. It’s the low-level tickets in each of the end zones that the Tigers are having a hard time selling.

Auburn is far from the only school dealing with a drop in attendance, though. Jacobs is a member of a committee — and one of two athletic directors — that meets with ESPN every quarter to discuss how to combat declining attendance. ESPN repeatedly expresses its feelings on the matter: obviously it cares, Jacobs said, since they want to broadcast games with sold-out stadiums.

“It’s something we talk about all the time,” he said. “What is it we can do to enhance the game day experience and get people to come to campus? Even though ESPN and the SEC TV (network) is going to generate some revenue for us, having the game on campus with a sold-out house is what college football is all about.”

The advances in technology and the ever-increasing popularity of social media have made it easier for people to stay at home and watch games on high-definition televisions.

Getting more fans to attend games is the main reason prices have remained the last two years, Jacobs said, one of the many actions Auburn has taken to try to improve game day experience.

“That’s why we (have) got to keep adding parking places,” Jacobs said. “We’re (still) not where we need to be. That’s why we’re going to have a movie Friday night at the baseball field. That’s why we’re having a lunch Friday with (head football coach) Gus (Malzahn). That’s why we’re opening up our locker room, just to make it more value added so you don’t just sit at home and watch it on television. You come to campus.”

Auburn athletic director Jay Jacobs says reform needed in NCAA: ‘We’ve got to get some level of deregulation’

BY RYAN BLACK | rblack@ledger-enquirer.com

@wareagleextra | Like the blog on Facebook

AUBURN, Ala.Jay Jacobs didn’t lay out a road map for how to cure the ills of the NCAA.

All he knows is that changes need to be made — and the sooner, the better.

Auburn athletic director Jay Jacobs met with media members in his office on Thursday. During the meeting, Jacobs called on the NCAA to make changes to better serve student-athletes. (Todd Van Emst/Auburn University)

Auburn athletic director Jay Jacobs met with media members in his office on Thursday. During the meeting, Jacobs called on the NCAA to make changes to better serve student-athletes. (Todd Van Emst/Auburn University)

“We’ve got to get to some level of deregulation, and everybody’s different,” Auburn’s athletic director said in a meeting with reporters on Thursday. “We can’t treat all Division I schools as if they’re all the same. It’s not fair to everybody.”

Jacobs offered one example: He couldn’t comprehend why the Tigers aren’t allowed to provide their players with three training meals every day; under the current rules, only one meal per day is permitted. He was similarly flummoxed by the rule barring agents from talking to student-athletes who have displayed the requisite talent to play professionally.

If other students are allowed to talk with future employers, Jacobs said athletes should be afforded that same opportunity.

“If I’m in chemical engineering and I’ve got an off-the-charts GPA and I’m a junior, I can assure you that there’s some company that’s pursuing me when I graduate,” he said. “But we’re telling our student-athletes that are All-Americans that, during their junior year, they can’t talk to anybody about their prospects of employment after their senior year.”

Of course, Jacobs spoke from a position of power, leading one of the few programs in the country that turns a profit every year. Auburn set a school record for revenue in 2012, hauling in $105.9 million, which ranked fifth among SEC teams (behind Alabama, Florida, Texas A&M and LSU, respectively) and 10th overall in Division I.

But with the gap between the haves and the have-nots widening every day, Jacobs said a “remedy” needs to be discovered immediately.

“I think we’ve got to get the right people in a room and come up with some remedy, because what we have right now just doesn’t seem to work,” he said. “It’s obvious it doesn’t seem to work. I’m not sure what the remedy is. There have been a lot of things kicked around. We all have to take a thorough look at what we currently have and cast a vision as to where we need to go and find a way to get there.”

The NCAA is taking small steps toward addressing some of the criticisms Jacobs and others around college athletics — including SEC commissioner Mike Slive — have leveled in recent months. The governing body sent out a survey to athletic directors and college presidents, asking for input on how it can better serve its member institutions.

The NCAA also asked athletic directors and presidents to attend its annual convention in January.

“We’ve all got to work together,” Jacobs said. “We all have a vote, so whatever we have, we’re a part of. Things have changed and we need to try to be as far as we can to our student-athletes regardless of where they are.”

The only way the NCAA will be able to solve its problems, Jacobs said, is if it takes a look in the mirror and asks tough questions regarding how its role has evolved.

“I think the landscape is changing,” Jacobs said. “We need to look at that. Are the rules best for the student-athlete and the institution? Are they archaic? … I think we need to be open-minded enough to look at all those things. What we decided years ago — is that still OK today? Some of them may be. Some of them may not.”

August 29, 2013

Auburn football: Tigers to open 2015 season in Atlanta against Louisville, AD Jay Jacobs discusses other scheduling matters

BY RYAN BLACK | rblack@ledger-enquirer.com

@wareagleextra | Like the blog on Facebook

AUBURN, Ala. — Auburn hasn’t even begun its 2013 season yet, but it will start the 2015 campaign playing in one of the opening weekend’s marquee games.2015 KOG logo Aug 26  10 am

It was announced on Thursday that Auburn will meet Louisville in the Chick-fil-A Kickoff Game, slated to be played on Saturday, Sept. 5, 2015 in Atlanta. The Tigers played in the Chick-fil-A Kickoff Game last season, falling to Clemson 26-19.

Auburn athletic director Jay Jacobs said it was an opportunity too good to pass up.

“We had talked to (Chick-fil-A Bowl and Kickoff Game president) Gary Stokan to bring that to the table,” he said. “That’s how we got hooked up. They asked us about it and we said, ‘You know what, it sounds like a great matchup for Auburn.’”

Auburn head coach Gus Malzahn is looking forward to the challenge as well.

“It will be a great opportunity for us to play on a national stage to kick off the college football season against a very good Louisville program,” he said. “We love playing in Atlanta at the Georgia Dome in front of our fans who live in the area or who can make the short drive to see Auburn play in a first-class event.”

Stokan was also pleased to have the Tigers returning to play in the Georgia Dome once again, especially when it meant they would face a Cardinals program on the rise under head coach Charlie Strong. Louisville begins this season No. 9 in the initial Associated Press poll after finishing 11-2 last season, capped by a Sugar Bowl victory over Florida.

“Louisville and Auburn represent two great football brands with incredible fan bases and a tradition of winning,” Stokan said in a release. “The ACC vs. SEC is a tremendous rivalry that has proven to be a recipe for sellouts, high TV ratings and close, competitive games.”

The two teams have met just once. The Tigers won that contest, beating the Cardinals 16-3 in 1974 at Legion Field in Birmingham, Ala.

Louisville wasn’t the only future opponent Jacobs discussed on Thursday, though. Jacobs disclosed that the Tigers will pay their four non-conference foes this season — Washington State, Arkansas State, Florida Atlantic and Western Carolina — close to $3.8 million. Washington State tops the list, cashing a $1.15 million check for Saturday’s game.

The other totals were $1.1 million for Arkansas State, $1 million for Florida Atlantic and $525,000 for Western Carolina.

In 2015, the Tigers will host Jacksonville State. The two were originally scheduled to meet this season, but when Texas A&M and Missouri joined the SEC in 2012, Auburn cancelled the game. Jacobs confirmed the two schools agreed to a new contract, meaning Auburn still has to pay Jacksonville State $500,000 for the cancellation of this season’s game.

The Tigers’ 2014 schedule was released last week, but they are still waiting for the SEC to finalize the 2015 lineup. Since Auburn will begin that season with Louisville, Jacobs mentioned he didn’t plan on it being a one-time occurrence.

Expect to see more games versus high-quality teams going forward.

“Our philosophy has been and will continue to be, we’re going to play that 12th game as a BCS opponent,” he said, “and that’s what we have with Louisville.”

July 21, 2013

Former Auburn hoops star Korvotney Barber found dead after apparent drowning in Panama City Beach

BY RYAN BLACK | rblack@ledger-enquirer.com

@wareagleextra

Former Auburn basketball star Korvotney Barber was found dead from an apparent drowning on Sunday in Panama City Beach, Fla.

Auburn Basketball

The body of former Auburn basketball player Korvotney Barber was discovered Sunday evening after an apparent drowning off Panama City Beach, Fla. He played for the Tigers from 2005-09.

Cpl. Jason Gleason of the Panama City Beach (Fla.) Police Department confirmed Barber’s body was found between the Boardwalk Beach Condominiums and the nearby Top of the Gulf Condominiums by a passing civilian at 4:49 p.m. (ET), seconds after he washed ashore.

“We are deeply saddened to learn of the devastatingly tragic and untimely death of Korvotney Barber,” Auburn athletic director Jay Jacobs said in an official university release Sunday. “The Auburn Family remembers ‘Vot’ as a relentless competitor with the heart of a champion. More importantly, those who knew him best remember him as a caring father who deeply loved his children and his family. Korvotney’s family and friends will remain in our thoughts and prayers during this profoundly sad time.”

According to police, Barber went missing at approximately 7:09 p.m. Saturday after going into the water with his wife and another friend, despite the beach being under double red flag conditions. Double red flags are posted to signal that the beach is closed and the public is forbidden to enter the water due to strong rip tides.

Thirty minutes after he was first reported missing Saturday, a search party consisting of the U.S. Coast Guard, the Florida Wildlife Commission and the Bay County Sheriff’s Office helicopter set out to look for Barber. Gleason said the helicopter had to be grounded later due to inclement weather in the area.

The 26-year-old Manchester native starred at Manchester High School, earning numerous honors during his senior campaign in 2004-05, when he posted averages of 20 points, 16 rebounds and eight blocks per game. That season, he led Manchester to a 22-4 overall record and a Class AA Sweet 16 appearance en route to garnering the Gatorade Player of the Year for Georgia and being selected as a McDonald’s All-American. Barber was also a member of the Georgia Blazers, a Columbus-based AAU team.

At Auburn, Barber averaged 10.9 points and 7.2 rebounds during his four-year career under former coach Jeff Lebo. His senior season in 2008-09 nearly saw him average a double-double, tallying 12.8 points and 9.6 rebounds per game.

“The Auburn basketball program is deeply saddened to lose one its great players in Korvotney ‘Vot’ Barber,” Auburn coach Tony Barbee said in a statement. “I was fortunate enough to meet ‘Vot’ just last week when he stopped by my office to introduce himself to me. What an impressive guy. Our prayers are with his family and loved ones.”

Barber went overseas after graduating from Auburn, playing for the Lugano Tigers, a team based in Switzerland. The Tigers finished with a 16-9 overall record this past season, good enough for second in the Swiss League’s Division A, the more prestigious of the league’s two divisions. Barber was the team’s third-leading scorer at 13.2 points per game and tied for the team-high in rebounds, grabbing 7.4 per contest.

Barber’s final game came against the Geneve Lions on May 31, which happened to be the deciding contest of the Swiss League’s best-of-five championship series.

In that game, Barber scored 10 points and collected six rebounds.

May 8, 2013

Auburn removes only softball coach in school history; Tina Deese led Tigers for 17 years

BY AARON BRENNER | abrenner@ledger-enquirer.com

Auburn Softball@WarEagleExtra

AUBURN, Ala. — The only softball coach in Auburn’s history is being replaced.

Tina Deese was fired Wednesday after 17 years of guiding the Tigers. Her career record was 562-458-1 with nine NCAA regional appearances, but she was 212-272 in the SEC (including 7-17 in 2013) upon taking over the inaugural squad in 1997.

“I deeply appreciate Tina’s many contributions to our program,” athletic director Jay Jacobs said in a statement. “She started it from the ground up, and I will always appreciate her role in establishing a foundation for Auburn softball. I made this decision because I felt it was time to move in another direction.”

The Tigers are 14-42 all-time versus Alabama, and have just one SEC tournament victory since 2005. Auburn has just two SEC West runner-up finishes, and no division crowns, in its history.

“I’m very fortunate to have had the opportunity to coach the Auburn softball program the last 17 seasons,” Deese said in a statement. “I’m disappointed that I will not be there to lead the team moving forward, but would like to thank the players, coaches and support staff that have been part of the program since I arrived in 1995. I’m also very appreciative of the Auburn family, community and university during my tenure, and wish the program nothing but the best.”

May 5, 2013

SEC Network’s future goals are bold; booming Big Ten Network’s journey is a cautionary tale

SEC ESPN Football

BY AARON BRENNER | abrenner@ledger-enquirer.com

@WarEagleExtra

Bret BielemaATLANTA – Bret Bielema used to ooze Big Ten. Raised in Illinois, played at Iowa, grew from upstart coordinator to flourishing head coach for Wisconsin.

In a surprise move betraying his roots, Bielema was lured to Arkansas by the temptation of hopping aboard the “Golden Age of the SEC”, as league commissioner Mike Slive proudly christened this era Thursday.

There’s a not-so-veiled swagger about Bielema, fitting in perfectly with his new conference.

“The SEC is its own animal, its own identity, its own unique situation,” Bielema said. “It’s fun to be a part of it and be on the inside now to see the view.”

Bielema will carry a one-of-a-kind perspective into the newest dawn of the Southeastern Conference, which on Thursday, hand-in-hand with ESPN, announced the creation of a 24/7 network dedicated to its league members launching in August 2014.

He’s a prior witness to a conference-centric network facing obstacles on the road to glory.

Big Ten Network

First in line

This is not an innovative endeavor. Other conferences have realized moderate success (Pac-12) or abrupt shutdown (Mountain West), but the clearest example of a blockbuster is the Big Ten Network, off the ground in August 2007 and now in 52 million homes – including more than 50 percent outside the Big Ten’s 9-state region.

“It’s very rewarding to see how far we’ve come,” BTN president Mark Silverman said in an August interview. “Our network was met with more than a healthy dose of skepticism.”

BTN wasn’t profitable until its second season on the air, and tortured its fan base when it wasn’t widely available on major distributors during a 2007-08 standstill.

Mark SilvermanFor that first year, major cable and satellite companies insisted on sticking BTN on a sports tier, forcing customers to pay extra fees. Silverman balked. Fans revolted.

“It was, to date, still the most difficult time of my professional career,” said Silverman, a former executive with ABC, NBC and Walt Disney. “We never expected full distribution at launch – that just doesn’t happen in the industry – but we also didn’t expect it to get as heated and as public as it got.”

That’s the cautionary tale for SEC ESPN Network creators, who today take comfort in the extended deadline to seal a deal with Comcast, Time Warner, DISH Network and DirecTV – who combine for 68 million viewers. (AT&T U-verse, the first company to agree with SEC Network, has 4.5 million subscribers.)

“Look, we have 16 months to have those conversations in advance of launching the network,” said former ESPN senior vice president Justin Connolly, who will handle SEC Network day-to-day operations. “We feel good about the opportunities that exist on that horizon, and we’re literally just getting into those discussions right now.”

Hell hath no fury like a scorned fan who can’t watch his or her team’s game. The SEC might be wise to take heed from that conference up north.

“I think that anytime you take on a venture in anything that’s similar to it, you can learn from it,” Auburn athletic director Jay Jacobs conceded. “So I think we learn the good and the bad from … other conferences: what they’ve done, what they’re going to accomplish. Maybe some things, you learn what not to do.”

ESPN president John Skipper was quick to point out ESPN negotiates license fees and other transactions with distributors, not consumers. That’s why organizers are urging fans to visit GetSECNetwork.com, hoping to strike a compromise with Comcast, DirecTV, etc. and avoid egg on their face the way Big Ten Network faced five years ago.

“We feel like the network will be priced efficiently and effectively,” said a confident Connolly.

Maybe the partnership of powers prevails easier than expected. An SEC release read Thursday: “This collaboration between the SEC and ESPN will bring together unparalleled content from one of the most competitive conferences in the country with the highest quality, most innovative production partner in the sports industry.”’

Translation: It’s the SEC, it’s ESPN, so how could this not work?

“The thing that was our single biggest hurdle to get over when we started off,” Bielema said of BTN’s initial distribution struggles, “I think that glitch has already been eradicated (by the SEC).”

Nick Saban

Access approved

Nick Saban’s no stranger to attention; that’s the territory with winning three national championships in four years.

With an in-house network, however, follows additional, constant demands for access – everything from exclusive interviews to cameras in the locker room.

“I think the time that we have to spend on media-related promotion … can’t be increased because we have other things that are important to do,” Saban said. “I think the time may get redistributed – but our players need to go to class, our players need to practice and prepare for games and be able to do those things without interruption.”

Bielema recalls “the domino effect” of more commitments to BTN, as well as the immediate benefits.

“Now you’re talking to a young man, he’s like, ‘oh yeah, I’ve been watching you for years’,” Bielema said. “Before you ever met him or talked to him, he knew a lot about you and your program. So I think that’s the part that you can’t even really project or fathom until it’s real.”

Still, for sticklers to detail like Auburn’s Gus Malzahn, it’s a challenge to confront.

“It’s all about balance,” Malzahn said. “You take care of your job first, and you put your schedule up where you can be very flexible and accommodate everyone.”

Call it like they see it?

Then there’s the question of objectivity. It’s a question BTN faces, as it insists on expressing its own voice.

“The network needs to have credibility as a news organization,” Big Ten senior associate commissioner of television administration Mark Rudner said in August. “I think the network has done a really good job on reporting news … they’re not taking direction from the conference office. They’re just not.”

Will the SEC Network advocate hard-hitting journalism, pump sunshine, or somewhere in the middle?

“They ought to be able to say whatever they believe,” Auburn president Jay Gogue said. “So I wouldn’t view us as in any way involved in controlling content.”

The network spearhead’s judgment is worthy, but it does conflict with what’s written in a network release Thursday: “The Network will cover and report on sports news and information in an objective manner, but the basic premise is the Network will represent the conference and its member institutions.”

In other words, say a football team loses four straight or a program is slammed with NCAA violations. Fans will quickly find out whether studio analysts employed by SEC Network have free reign to speak their mind.

John Skipper, Mike Slive

Confident crew

The Wall Street Journal has reported ESPN will own 100 percent of SEC Network – which Slive coyly disputed on Birmingham radio Friday.

“We have structured our relations in a way that’s really in the best interests of both of us … we’re both happy,” Slive said at Thursday’s announcement. “We will not at this particular time, and I don’t anticipate in the near future, detail our financials.

“I will say this: we wouldn’t have done this if we didn’t believe the network was going to be, in the long-term, a benefit of the league in terms of distribution and revenue.”

With more than a year to prepare, SEC Network’s still ironing out how to fill out the never-ending news cycle, since live games only take up so much air time.

“We’ve been concentrating on the types of stories from an academic perspective,” Gogue said, “that we would like to see occur the next few years or after the launch of the channel.”

According to Connolly, ESPN will oversee the SEC’s official corporate partner program and manage the league’s digital platforms.

BTN has developed a devoted following for Emmy-winning documentary “The Journey: Big Ten Basketball”, Big Ten Elite, BTN LiveBig and Football Preview Tour among other original content.

“We’re quite confident this is a new and unique opportunity, and that nothing like this has been done before,” Skipper said. “The level of distribution we’ll have at the beginning, the quality of the production, the amount of the games that we’ll have, the sort of integration with digital platforms, this is taking this to a whole new level.”

For as much power as Big Ten Network lent Bielema and his yesteryear counterparts, one thing was evident in his comments about BTN – following the trend with Gogue, Jacobs, Slive and Skipper.

All of them sidestepped mentioning the Big Ten, Big Ten Network or any other conference directly by name.

That’s the “S-E-C!” way. That’s the SEC’s mission.

“I don’t think our intention,” Skipper said, “is to compare this to anything else.”

SEC ESPN Network

May 2, 2013

Jay Gogue “disappointed” in negative reports, but satisfied with Auburn’s response

2Auburn6 (1)

BY AARON BRENNER | abrenner@ledger-enquirer.com

@WarEagleExtra

ATLANTA – Someday, Auburn officials will be able to focus solely on stories on the football field, in the classroom and (now) on major conference developments like Thursday’s SEC Network announcement.

LINK: The nuts and bolts of Thursday’s SEC Network announcement

However, in their first media appearances since last month’s reports of football program wrongdoings, university president Jay Gogue and athletic director Jay Jacobs continued to put negative reports to rest Thursday at the Hyatt Regency in downtown Atlanta.

Particularly of Gogue’s interest was a Roopstigo.com report April 3 by former Sports Illustrated and New York Times reporter Selena Roberts of academic fraud, pay-for-play schemes and drug testing cover-ups during the 2010 national championship season.

On April 22, the university unleashed a fervent response to Roberts’ report following an internal investigation, denying all allegations with studies and fact-finding. According to CBS’ Jeremy Fowler, Jacobs has been in contact with the NCAA, which is reportedly satisfied with Auburn’s response.

The NCAA, as is common protocol, will not comment on any potential or pending investigations.

Gogue, the SEC chairman largely responsible for Thursday’s announcement, was asked about the reports.

“It’s just the day in the life of a university president. I think the response to a lot of the stories that came out after the fact indicated a little bit different perspective,” Gogue said.

“We were disappointed in the story. We didn’t know if it was accurate or not – I didn’t. So when you get in and begin to do all your careful reviews of everything said, we didn’t find anything. So in my judgment, it was a story that went out and was refuted.”

April 30, 2013

SEC Notes: Slive no-comments Auburn allegation reports, demands better basketball

BY AARON BRENNER | abrenner@ledger-enquirer.com

@WarEagleExtra

ncf_a_slive_b1_600BIRMINGHAM, Ala. – Athletic director Jay Jacobs and former head coach Gene Chizik were clearly indignant, debunking reports of Auburn committing NCAA violations and otherwise wrongdoings by ESPN and Roopstigo.com.

While fans both for and against Auburn weighed in, active coaches (like Gus Malzahn) and players weren’t touching the subject.

SEC commissioner Mike Slive, predictably, was in the latter camp when asked about it Monday at an Associated Press Sports Editors conference.

“I never comment on that kind of thing. I mean, I just don’t comment on those things,” Slive said.

Asked if he thought Jacobs acted in the appropriate manner, Slive still didn’t bite.

“I read Jay’s defense,” Slive said. “It’s just something I don’t deal with publicly.”

Oops, hoops: Nobody’s questioning the SEC’s prowess on a football field, yet the nation mocks that same conference come men’s basketball season.

The SEC earned just three NCAA Tournament bids this spring, and it could have been two if not for Ole Miss’ stunning run to the league tournament championship. The Rebels joined regular season champ Florida and league newcomer Missouri, while defending NCAA champion Kentucky lost in the first round of the NIT.

Yes, it is a concern, and yes, it is something that the league office is thinking about and should be thinking about,” Slive said. “No school’s an island when it comes to scheduling basketball, and we’re going to take a very hard look at the importance of who our people play in non-conference.”

Slive proudly reminded the crowd of the SEC’s three recent national championships – Florida went back-to-back in 2006-07.

“The answer is we’ve had a lot of success, and last year was not indicative of who we are in basketball,” Slive said. “We’re a lot more than that.”

Cracking down: It was a bizarre, can-that-actually-happen moment, when Auburn sophomore defensive back Jonathon Mincy was thrown out of the spring game for targeting a defenseless receiver above the head.

Yes, the spring game. The one that doesn’t count.

But that’s what the NCAA wants to enforce early and often, as player safety concerns are heightened with the horrors of additional research.

The new rule, passed in March, permits referees to authorize immediate ejections, rather than deferring to league review of questionable hits over the weekend – which in the past were punishable by one-game suspensions for the following game.

“One of the premises was how do you impact behavior immediately, rather than waiting and getting into a lot of dialogue about the nuance of the (action),” Slive said. “The idea here is if a player knows that he’s going to be ejected from the game – and he is gone – that is, I think in the final analysis, the most effective way to modify behavior. Waiting until Sunday or Monday does not (do that.)”

Kickoffs could be an endangered staple of football. Time will tell.

“What’s important here is we continue to use the rules for the benefit of the health and safety of our student-athletes,” Slive said. “We’ll keep looking at the data and keep talking about it. This was a giant step forward, making it clear that if you target somebody, you’re going to be ejected right then and there. Hopefully that will change behavior.”

Worldwide leader: No, Slive doesn’t think ESPN has become too powerful in the college sports landscape.

“I can’t control what other people think,” Slive said. “Through ESPN, we have a lot of distribution. We’re very excited about the future, and we’re going to be in a position where we can even enhance the exposure to not just the so-called football and basketball sports, but other sports of ours.

“I can’t speak for others, but I can tell you we have enjoy the relationship we have with ESPN, and with CBS.”

Although its purpose has not formally been announced, Thursday’s press conference in Atlanta – rescheduled from April 16 due to the Boston Marathon bombings – is expected to declare the creation of an SEC Network in partnership with ESPN.

April 23, 2013

Gene Chizik feels “no remorse, no regrets and no bitterness” after 2012 downfall

BY AARON BRENNER | abrenner@ledger-enquirer.com

@WarEagleExtra

AUBURN, Ala. – History shows nobody’s experienced the extreme emotions of college football coaching – specifically, the plunge from high to low – like Gene Chizik.

National champion to unemployed, bridged by just one Christmas, Chizik finally spoke publicly Monday, an opportunity to contemplate a wild four-year term as Auburn’s head coach.

On the Tigers’ staff for two undefeated seasons in the past decade yet taking the fall for an unprecedented plunge to 3-9, Chizik was asked, point-blank: how does he look back on his time at Auburn?

“I’m very appreciative that we were able, in our first three years, to accomplish a lot of memorable moments. That’s something that I’ll always look back on very fondly,” Chizik said. “We had an SEC championship, a national championship, a Heisman Trophy winner (Cam Newton), and a Lombardi Award winner (Nick Fairley). There’s a lot of people that can wear the Auburn colors, they can wear that shirt that says national championship on it, and I’m very proud of that.

“Obviously, I don’t want to go into detail about last year, but it was very disappointing for myself as a coach, and anybody that loves Auburn.”

AUBURN Miss StateThe school’s defensive coordinator from 2002-04, Chizik returned to Auburn after floundering in his first crack at head coaching, going 5-19 from 2007-08 at Iowa State. The former Florida linebacker quieted doubters with a 30-10 mark his first three years, highlighted clearly by the 2011 BCS championship victory over Oregon.

But when he lost all eight SEC games in 2012, along with fan support and firm control of the program (with abundant player attrition and reported curfews enforced), Auburn athletic director Jay Jacobs had no choice but to make a change.

“I’m a big boy, and I understand the business. Whether it’s the SEC or the NFL, the bottom line is you have to win,” Chizik said. “In 27 years, I’ve never been dismissed from a job. So I’m in unchartered waters and unchartered territory.

“I have no remorse, no regrets and no bitterness. … It’s water under the bridge. Auburn did what they had to do.”

Chizik, his wife Jonna (the daughter of Gene’s high school coach) and their three children still live in Auburn, five months after being fired Nov. 25 – the day after a 49-0 loss to rival Alabama in the Iron Bowl, the final straw of a horrendous season.

“People have been very positive,” Chizik said of his interactions with the public. “This is a great community, and that’s why we chose to stay in it.”

Per his contract, Chizik is being paid out monthly installments of a $7.5 million buyout lasting through 2015 – banking more than $200,000 each month while he remains out of work.

Other than serving as a guest analyst on Feb. 6 during ESPNU’s National Signing Day coverage, Chizik said he has been “consulting with different teams.”

“Certainly we’ve looked at different possibilities job-wise, not just in football but in other arenas as well,” Chizik said. “But there’s no decisions definitively that have been made.”

At the same time, the refueled 51-year-old adds he’s got much to add in coaching. He wouldn’t dictate a preference between returning as a head coach or defensive coordinator.

“It’s been a time of reflection,” Chizik said. “I’m not one to dwell on the past and look at all the ‘what-ifs’ … but naturally, you reflect. I’ve spent a lot of quality time with my children and my wife, which I needed to do, and will continue to do.

“But I’ve also stayed busy. I’m in a place right now where I’m continuing to map out a plan.”

April 22, 2013

SPLASH ZONE: Jacobs, Chizik ardently defend Auburn from ongoing allegations (w/ video)

BY AARON BRENNER | abrenner@ledger-enquirer.com

@WarEagleExtra

AUBURN, Ala. – So much for a culture of silence.

Auburn athletic director Jay Jacobs and former head coach Gene Chizik, splintered in working relationship but united as men hell-bent on preserving their reputation, individually unleashed powerful resistances to widely-distributed reports earlier this month by ESPN.com and Roopstigo.com filled with negative accusations and would-be NCAA violations.

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.

AUBURN FOOTBALLThen Chizik, who since his firing Nov. 25 only had surfaced once publically (as part of ESPNU’s National Signing Day coverage), finally let his voice be heard. And oh, was there fury in that voice – a polar opposite of Chizik’s demeanor throughout the 3-9 season that cost him his job.

“The way I saw it, it’s very frustrating because you know you’re operating this football program exactly the way you need to do it,” Chizik said to local beat reporters in an impassioned 34-minute on-campus interview.

“It’s really hard to operate day-by-day with what I consider to be the most scrutinized, and sometimes villainized, program in the country. I just didn’t see the facts and the data that ever indicated it should have been. I still don’t.”

In the past, Auburn opted for canned statements and rare direct response to constant scrutiny, be it the Cam Newton investigation in 2010, rumors of recruiting transgressions and other reported misdeeds.

In a short video released by Auburn University explaining why speak up now, Jacobs said it best: “I’m tired of it. I’m tired of these attacks on Auburn, and when people attack Auburn, I’m going to fight for Auburn as strongly as I possibly can.

“If we make a mistake, we’re going to admit it. But when people say things that aren’t true, we’re going to set the record straight.”

During an earlier radio appearance on WJOX in Birmingham, Chizik asserted, “we want to make as big a splash as we can with the truth.”

AUBURN FOOTBALLPatient and firm, Jacobs swore he’d get to the bottom of an avalanche of allegations hurled at his football program in “Auburn’s Tainted Title: Victims, Violations and Vendettas for Glory”, posted April 3 on Roberts’ six-month-old web site.

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.”

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.

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

Later in his letter, Jacobs 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 on-field 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.”

Gogue, according to Jacobs, has tasked the review committee with “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.

Numerous media reports already had poked holes in the Roopstigo report – mostly when several players quoted by Roberts retracted their involvement.

The lone named source who had yet to respond, former receiver Darvin Adams, broke his silence Monday. Via Chizik’s representation, Adams stated: “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.”

When requested for comment by the Ledger-Enquirer, Roberts made a brief response, 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 Auburn’s Monday statement was “self-revealing.”

This week’s edition of ESPN the Magazine has a 9-page story delving into Auburn players’ involvement with synthetic marijuana, otherwise known as “spice.” While the university responded April 4 with facts debunking that narrative, Chizik added a separate viewpoint Monday.

“The notion that 50 percent of our football team was smoking it: let me tell you this. This is not a performance-enhancing drug. It’s a performance-debilitating drug,” Chizik said. “So if half of our football team is on it during our 2010 national championship run, how were we performing at a level that was the best football team in the country? That doesn’t even make sense.”

The university did work with Chizik and his reps over the past 19 days to craft a response.

“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.”

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