Denials flowing from ‘pathetic… pure garbage’ HBO report

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As expected, the fallout from Wednesday night’s HBO special on big-time college athletics — football in particular — has commenced in earnest, with very swift and extremely vehement denials coming from the “stars” of the Real Sports with Bryant Gumbel program.

In particular, current Auburn head coach Gene Chizik took aim at the cable network for airing one side of a story in which four Auburn players — Stanley McCloverTroy ReddickChaz Ramsey and Raven Gray — levied accusations that they were paid cash by alumni/boosters in exchange for their signatures on a Letter of Intent to attend Auburn or for their on-field performances.  Or both.  Chizik, who said he was never contacted by HBO for their story, was Auburn’s defensive coordinator from 2002-2004, the same time frame as two of the players featured in the piece.

Saying “I don’t have my head in the sand”, Chizik blasted HBO for their one-sided approach to the issues raised in the expose’.

“It’s sad to me, it’s very sad to me, that HBO is going to go ahead and air something that, really admittedly, they’ve got no proof on anything,” Chizik said.

“What’s disturbing to me is that they interviewed other former Auburn football players who had exactly the opposite to say but somehow or another that failed to make the air, unless I missed that section. So I’ve got other former players that are calling me who are still playing and who are great players who had absolutely no knowledge of any of that stuff. So it saddens me that somebody is going to air a show with basically one side being known.

I think that’s pathetic. And I think it’s pure garbage.

Lee Ziemba, who started more than 50 games with the Tigers from 2007-2010, blasted the “bum” players via Twitter Tuesday as well.  While his message was somewhat softened yesterday, he still questioned both the accusers and their accusations.

“These guys obviously have some kind of beef with Auburn,” Ziemba told the Opelika-Auburn News on Wednesday. “I played here four years, was recruited by the same folks they were and never saw a dime out of any of it.

“I played in the same games, walked out of the same locker room and never got one of those ‘money handshakes.’ If any of that had been going on, I would have known about it.”

While the denials from Auburn are to be expected, it remains to be seen what type of NCAA fallout these allegations may trigger.  Ahead of the show yesterday evening, the SEC released a statement saying they are “aware of some of the information to be aired” and that their “staff will pursue the allegations in a timely manner.”  In their own statement, Auburn acknowledged that they have “contacted both the NCAA and Southeastern Conference as soon as these allegations surfaced”, as well as “engaging outside counsel to investigate this matter and will spare no resources to find the truth.”

The NCAA’s statute of limitations is four years — not five as we’d previously written — and two of the ex-Auburn players fall outside of that window.  However, the other two are within that time frame, which would allow the NCAA to commence digging.  There are, though, exceptions to that four-year time frame that could allow the NCAA to go as far back as they want or need to.

NCAA Bylaw 32.6.3 outlines a four-year statute of limitations on violations, but there are exceptions. Two could apply in this case. They involve: “Allegations … to indicate a pattern of willful violations on the part of the institution or individual involved, which began before but continued into the four-year period. Allegations that indicate a blatant disregard for the NCAA’s fundamental recruiting, extra-benefit, academic or ethical-conduct regulations.”

A Florida attorney who specializes in NCAA enforcement cases told AuburnVersus.com that he would be surprised if, based on the allegations, the NCAA didn’t go back further than the normal four-year statute of limitations would dictate.

“If the enforcement staff can determine there’s a pattern of willful intent to violate the rules, they then go beyond that statute of limitations,” said Michael Buckner, an attorney from Pompano Beach, Fla., that specializes in NCAA enforcement cases. “It doesn’t happen often. But I would be surprised if the enforcement staff did not at least look into those allegations, even if they did occur beyond the four-year statute of limitations.”

Given the whole Cam Newton imbroglio, which begat a deeper NCAA look into Auburn’s recruiting practices, there’s little doubt that the NCAA will dig into these latest allegations and turn over any rock related to the Auburn football program.  The thing is, how much credence should be given to this quartet of players, one of whom had filed a lawsuit against his former school?

We’re far from qualified to give an answer to that question; we’ll let those on the enforcement staff more versed in these matters to decide the veracity of the claims.  However, one former Auburn player very concisely summed up where our feelings on this entire mess may be headed.

“There’s just a lot of guys that have dealt with things as far as how their career went, and a lot of that is reflected in how they felt they got treated by Auburn,” T.J. Jackson, a former teammate of McClover and Reddick, told the Opelika-Auburn News on Tuesday night. “Not being ugly to those guys, but if you were going to pay some people, there were probably a lot of people (on those teams) that should have been paid before those guys.”

Regardless of where the truth actually lies, there’s no doubt that we have yet to hear the last of this situation.  The question then becomes: will the current Auburn Four be the lone wolves crying financial foul play, or will “people that should have been paid before those guys” surface as well?

Stay tuned and strap in, I guess, as this off-field game is, unfortunately, far from over.

Second Vols player this week could be on his way out

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Attrition is hitting Tennessee’s depth on the defensive side of the ball this early on in the spring.

Tuesday, reports surfaced that safety Stephen Griffin had decided to transfer out of Butch Jones’ Volunteers football program.  Two days later, it appears one of Griffin’s former teammates, linebacker Gavin Bryant, is headed toward a similar departure.

The football program has not addressed Bryant’s with the Vols moving forward.

A four-star member of UT’s 2014 recruiting class, Bryant (pictured, taking a knee to the helmet) was rated as the No. 10 inside linebacker in the country and the No. 9 player at any position in the state of Alabama. After redshirting as a true freshman, Bryant played in 21 games the past two seasons as a reserve linebacker.

Griffin, meanwhile, was a three-star 2015 prospect who played in 10 games last season. He started one of those contests.

D-II head coach to reportedly take RBs coach job at Syracuse

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It appears Dino Babers is on the verge of, once again, completing his Syracuse coaching staff.

FootballScoop.com is reporting that reporting that Justin Lustig (pictured, left) is leaving his job as the head coach at Div. II Edinboro (Pa.) College to take over as running backs coach at Syracuse.  Additionally, Lustig will serve as special teams coordinator for the Orange.

This will mark Lustig’s first job at a Power Five program.

Lustig replaces Mike Hart, who left earlier this month to take the running backs coach job at Indiana.  Tom Kaufman, who oversaw Syracuse’s special teams as well as coached linebackers, took the defensive coordinator job at an FCS program two weeks ago.

Hired in January of last year, Lustig took over an Edinboro team that finished 0-11 in 2015 and turned them into a 9-2 squad one year later.  For that turnaround, he was named the Div. II Coach of the Year.

Lustig’s last job at the FBS level came at Ball State, where he served as running backs coach/special teams coordinator from 2011-15.  He also earned the title of assistant head coach prior to the start of the 2015 season.

Former Baylor TE Tre’Von Armstead arrested in connection to 2013 sexual assault

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The cloud habitually hovering over the Baylor football program continues to get darker.  And more ominous.

According to the Waco Tribune-Herald, “[f]ormer Baylor football player Tre'Von Armstead was arrested Wednesday… on three second-degree felony sexual assault charges stemming from an alleged 2013 sexual assault while he was a member of the Baylor football team.” While the alleged rape occurred in mid-April of 2013, the case was suspended by the Waco Police Department, ESPN.com writes, “after the alleged victim chose not to pursue charges against Armstead and former Bears running back Myke Chatman, who she accused of sexually assaulting her at her apartment.”

The victim in that alleged assault, a former “Baylor Bruin” recruiting hostess for the football program, filed a lawsuit in late January of this year in which it’s alleged that 31 Baylor football players committed 52 acts of rape over a four-year period starting in 2011.  It was further alleged in the lawsuit that BU assistant football coaches, including current Florida Atlantic assistant Kendal Briles, contributed to what was described as a “culture of sexual violence” around the football program.

“Do you like white women? Because we have a lot of them at Baylor and they love football players,” Briles, the son of disgraced former BU head coach Art Briles, told one recruit according to that lawsuit, one of many the university is currently facing as a result of the sexual-assault scandal.

Despite the 2013 allegations of Armstead being involved in a sexual assault, he remained with the football program until his dismissal in September of 2015.  A little over a week ago, Armstead was arrested on multiple charges in Las Vegas after he allegedly physically assaulted a woman.

Louisville clarifies titles for revamped defensive coaching staff

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The offseason shuffling of Bobby Petrino‘s defensive coaching staff appears to be complete.

Thanks to Todd Grantham‘s move to Mississippi State earlier this offseason, Petrino was forced to overhaul his staff on that side of the ball.  Peter Sirmon, who Grantham replaced at MSU, was hired by the U of L as defensive coordinator in mid-January.

As the Cardinals kicked off spring practice this week, the football program detailed the responsibilities for the defensive side of the staff.

New defensive coordinator Peter Sirmon announced on Wednesday that he has finalized position changes on his defensive staff. Sirmon will mentor the defense, but will also coach the outside linebackers. Lorenzo Ward will coach the secondary, while Cort Dennison will now mentor the inside linebackers. L.D. Scott will stick with coaching the defensive line.

Last season under Grantham, the Cardinals were 31st nationally and sixth in the ACC in scoring defense (23.8 points per game).  They were 14th and third, respectively, in total defense (319.6 yards per game).