“Here we go again,” the Auburn fan must be thinking today. From the fall of 2010 through the spring of 2013, the AU football program has been the target of numerous media investigations, a lengthy NCAA investigation, and multiple rumors, innuendos, claims, and accusations.
Just this week, the school has been the focus of two investigative pieces that have gained national attention. Selena Roberts’ allegations of grade-changing, paying players, and recruiting violations came first. A day later, ESPN decided to unveil “a six-month investigation by ESPN The Magazine and ‘E:60′ into the spread of synthetic marijuana at Auburn.”
In the case of the ESPN probe, why Auburn? LSU Heisman candidate Tyrann Mathieu became the poster boy for synthetic weed — “spice” — late last summer when he was booted from the Tiger team. Yet ESPN decided to investigate AU instead. Why? And why now?
The second question can be answered first. ESPN wanted to cash in on the national spotlight already being aimed on the Plains. No one’s talking about Roberts and the site Roopstigo.com now. They’re talking about ESPN. You can trust the network decided to push up the release of its story to take full advantage of the Auburn buzz already created by Roberts.
The answer is simple on the “Why Auburn?” front, too. Because AU’s athletic department is near the top of the NCAA’s all-time most wanted list. Its seven all-time major infractions cases rank behind only Arizona State and SMU in terms of repeated bad behavior. Also, Auburn is one of the traditional power schools in what’s currently the best conference for football in America. An SEC scandal? That’s worth a lot of pageviews and eyeballs as so many people across the country want to see the king’s crown tarnished.
Auburn’s repeat offender status ensures that the Tigers will always be a suspect. Like an ex-con who’s turned to every time a watch goes missing, AU will always have to deal with raised eyebrows and suspicious glances. The school’s athletic department has made that bed and fair or not it will always have to lie in it.
According to ESPN’s latest piece, “The 2010 national champion Auburn Tigers were gripped by an epidemic of synthetic marijuana use that led to a rash of failed drug tests and a decision at the highest levels of the university’s athletic department to keep the results confidential.” ESPN claims no parents were notified of their sons’ positive tests.
Not to be AU’s defense attorney, but let’s look at a couple of issues here. First, neither the public nor the media knew very much about the rise of synthetic marijuana use in college athletics before the aforementioned Mathieu and two other LSU players got in trouble with the stuff last summer. Yet AuburnSports.com – the Rivals site covering Auburn — reports that “sources” have confirmed to the site that “the athletic department quickly partnered with its drug-testing company to create new tests to identify the substance in athletes’ bloodstreams” back in 2010, years prior to Mathieu’s issues. At that time, Aegis Sciences Corporation of Nashville “hadn’t yet developed a test for the then-legal substance.”
Granted, a pro-Auburn site is hardly the place to turn for objective news coverage, but the site goes on to claim that a parent of a Tiger football player says he was notified when his son tested positive for the drug in 2011. Of course, the player and the parent aren’t named, so many will ignore AuburnSports.com’s “source” altogether. (Like an ex-convict or a program that’s been in NCAA trouble time and again, a website that is constantly positive in its coverage of a team won’t be trusted by non-fans.)
A second issue is the fact that schools across the country were trying to come to grips with spice in 2010 and 2011. To pick out Auburn for investigation seems — as we suggested earlier — sales- and ratings-driven.
The “everybody does it” defense never worked on my parents during my high school years and I’m guessing it rarely holds up in court, either. Everyone who drives 80 miles per hour doesn’t get a speeding ticket… the guy who gets pulled over for driving 80 gets the ticket. Them’s the breaks.
So if Auburn really had a synthetic marijuana issue that it attempted to cover up, it can’t complain too loudly. There’s a legitimate gripe that AU is always getting picked on, but bad behavior is still bad behavior.
All that said, AU officials have to be getting tired of NCAA and media gumshoes walking around their campus, going through their dirty laundry. And the same can be said for Auburn fans.
It’s hard to imagine that at least one or two Tiger backers haven’t thought to themselves: “I’ve got enough real issues in my life without the added heartache that comes with following the NCAA’s and media’s most wanted athletic program.”
Sports are supposed to be fun, an entertainment, an escape. But at Auburn, the 2010 title and the school’s long history of cheating have landed the program smack under a microscope. From HBO to ESPN, the Tiger football program has been in and out of the news — mainly in — for three straight years now. That’s a full-on siege. Heck, Auburn fans must feel a bit like the Rebels at Vicksburg by now.
So if sports are supposed to be an amusement, at what point do Tiger fans just throw up their hands and walk away? Where’s the fun in all the recent misery?
Throw out whether or not Auburn cheated — as Roberts suggests — or looked the other way on a new drug — as ESPN claims — and focus instead on the fans. The men and women who attended AU. Children born into pro-Auburn homes. Those folks have done nothing wrong. Their only sin is caring about a football team. They don’t deserve all the grief and worry that’s come their way since Cam Newton first arrived on campus.
But every time another reporter arrives on the Plains, the fans are the ones who do end up dealing with the heartache and the misery. So is it really worth it to be an Auburn fan at this point? With America seemingly determined to bring AU’s program down?
Where have all the good times gone?