There’s a running gag in the Ron Howard/Tom Hanks movie, “Splash,” that features Eugene Levy’s character repeatedly stating: “What a week I’m having.”
Somewhere, the great God of College Athletics must be muttering that line himself today.
Already this week we’ve had one of the worst sports injuries you’ll ever see traumatize an entire arena’s worth of people during Sunday’s Louisville/Duke basketball game. The Pac-12′s head of officials was then exposed for “joking” about rewarding his refs if they would lob technical fouls at Arizona coach Sean Miller. Then Rutgers’ hoops coach, Mike Rice, was canned after video emerged of him shoving and throwing basketballs at his players during practice sessions. Yesterday, USA Today took aim at the background of NCAA president Mark Emmert, bringing up his potential wrongs and cover-ups at UConn and LSU.
Now this. Auburn grad and blogger Selena Roberts has levied charge after charge against her alma mater’s football program. One of the allegations involves then-AU assistant and current UF head coach Will Muschamp. It’s rough stuff, not that Auburn officials or fans should be surprised by that anymore. No school has been through the NCAA wringer more than AU and the string of alleged scandals in recent years is longer than a Tiger’s tail.
Roberts alleges that nine football players’ grades were changed to keep them eligible during the school’s 2010 BCS championship run. Going back further, she claims money was offered to certain star underclassmen to keep them from turning pro early. Florida’s Muschamp allegedly handed $400 over to a player at one point. It’s also alleged that then-head coach Gene Chizik spent well over the NCAA’s cash limit on recruiting visits.
Roberts’ allegations all tie back to ex-Auburn players, but many of the key figures have since claimed they were misquoted, claimed they were quoted out of context, or claimed someone else might have inaccurately quoted them to the reporter.
Asked about the denials, Roberts said her facts are buttoned-up and that the reversals just show how much pressure there is for Auburn athletes to keep their mouths shut about wrongdoing within the Tiger athletic department. Roberts herself was formerly employed by both Sports Illustrated and The New York Times, so she’s got some good names on her resume.
A spokesperson for the Auburn athletic department declined a request from The Birmingham News for a comment. Gene Chizik’s agent refused to comment, too. In Gainesville, Will Muschamp isn’t scheduled to go before the media until Saturday, but a Florida spokesperson has denied the allegation that the current Gator coach paid a player while on Tommy Tuberville’s Auburn staff.
That’s the gist of the story, here are the questions raised by it:
* Did the NCAA just ask the wrong people the wrong questions while investigating AU’s program again and again over the past couple of years? For a body accused of going too far in its investigation at Miami, the NCAA sure came up empty time and again in Auburn’s case.
* Did players speak more honestly to Roberts because more time has passed or because Chizik and Tuberville and a number of ex-assistants are now out of the picture? Unless Roberts is trying to commit career hari-kari, her story can’t be the complete fabrication it’s being portrayed as. So how much of it is true, who said what, and for what purpose?
* Will the NCAA send a fresh team of investigators to the Plains to follow up on these accusations? AU officials should be used to visits from the NCAA by now. For that matter, will this scandal be the straw that breaks the camel’s back for Auburn AD Jay Jacobs, a man already under fire from his fanbase?
* Is the NCAA in any position to investigate or punish any school these days? If its case against Miami’s athletic department and several former Hurricane coaches is thrown out — as those accused are pushing for — can the governing body wipe the egg from its face long enough to go after another school?
* Will this all just go the way of Danny Sheridan’s bagman, Scott Moore’s secret audio tapes, and “the HBO Four?” Auburn’s been smoky enough to give the Devil a cough in recent years, but to date no actual fire has ever been found. Accusation after allegation after claim have been made, but nothing has stuck. So will Roberts’ piece just get tossed onto the pile with the other unproven claims?
* And just how much should Florida supporters be worrying today? Fans can claim that the mere suggestion that something’s wrong is driven by anti-school bias — a few of them do so on this site every single day — but no school officials like reading anything about their coach paying a player. Ever. Whether it’s true or not. And Gator fans might remember that the university initially stood by UF assistant Aubrey Hill. A year later Hill resigned on his own. And then the other shoe dropped as he was hit by the NCAA with charges that he’d provided misleading information to the body’s investigators during their look-see/witch-hunt at Miami.
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