More accusations leveled against Auburn’s football program

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Over two years after Gene Chizik, Cam Newton, et al hoisted the crystal football, allegations of misconduct continue to dog the Auburn football program.

According to a report titled “Auburn’s Tainted Title: Victims, Violations and Vendettas for Glory” from former New York Times and Sports Illustrated writer Selena Roberts on her new website Roopstigo.com, Chizik and/or his coaching staff — and/or his predecessors — were responsible for multiple violations of NCAA bylaws including impermissible benefits and academic fraud.

The story ostensibly centers on former Tigers defensive back Mike McNeil, one of four ex-AU football players charged with armed robbery in March of 2011.  McNeil was one of a handful of former players quoted on the record for Roberts’ piece, a group that included wide receiver Darvin Adams, defensive end Mike Blanc, defensive end Antoine Carter and defensive back Neiko Thorpe.  Other unnamed sources were utilized in the story, on which AU officials have thus far declined to comment.

McNeil, who’s scheduled to go on trial later this month and faces 21 years to life in prison if convicted, leveled most but not all of the accusations included in the article.  Some of those include:

— After being rebuffed by his computer science instructor and that instructor’s supervisor in an attempt to get a grade changed, McNeil claims he went to an athletic department counselor with his problem. “Within days… the grade was changed from an F to a C and he did not miss a game,” Roberts wrote.  Additionally, three of the players claimed that nine players, including star running back Michael Dyer, should not have played in the BCS championship game against Oregon in January of 2011 because they were academically ineligible. “Auburn found a way to make those dudes eligible,” Blanc was quoted as saying.

— Adams, who set an SEC championship game record with 217 receiving yards that sent the Tigers to the BCS title game, claimed that he was offered financial incentives — McNeil and Blanc claimed it was several thousands of dollars —  by the AU coaching staff to return to the Tigers for the 2011 season.  Instead, Adams turned pro early and went undrafted.

— Following “a difficult day at practice in 2007,” McNeil claims that then-defensive coordinator and current Florida head coach Will Muschamp handed him $400 in cash and asked, “is this enough?  Is this good?”  Through a UF spokesperson, Muschamp, who left AU for Texas following that season, denied such a payment was made.

— McNeil claimed that he was given $500 to host 2008 recruit and eventual 2009 Alabama signee Dre Kirkpatrick — the NCAA limit is $50. “If I’m a star player and I’m a likable person, and a recruit comes in at my position, then, of course, I’m going to take him under my wing,” McNeil said in the article. “If a star recruit was in town, you would get a lot more than the NCAA limit.”

In addition to no reaction from the university, neither Chizik nor his agent have been available for comment, although one of the most-quoted players in the piece offered up this curious reaction via Twitter once the story went viral.

“Man this article is outrageous and isn’t true. The media will do anything for a juicy story smh #sad,” Blanc tweeted this evening.

Roberts’ blockbuster is the latest in a long line of accusations leveled against the AU football program that stretch back to months before their 2010 BCS title.

The most publicized scrutiny involved the recruitment of Newton, the Heisman-winning quarterback who left The Plains after one title-winning season for the NFL.  The NCAA investigated the allegations — that Newton’s services could be obtained during the recruiting process for a substantial financial “donation” to the player’s father — and ultimately determined that no violations had occurred.

Interestingly, there was no mention of Newton in Roberts’ report that focused primarily on that championship season.

In addition to the Newton imbroglio, the AU football program has been investigated over the past two years by the NCAA regarding its recruiting practices… allegations made by four former players on an HBO showTiger ProwlJovon Robinsontwo now-former ace recruiters and their recruitment of Robinson… and that’s about all for now as you get the point.

The NCAA has yet to respond to requests for comment, although they understandably have more pressing issues on their collective plates.

UPDATED 9:21 p.m. ET: In a pair of tweets posted to his Twitter account, Neiko Thorpe claims that he was misquoted by Roberts in her story.

“While I spoke to Selena Roberts about Mike I have just read her article & not only am I misquoted but my words are very out of context. We didn’t talk about NCAA violations or recruiting. I’m proud 2 have played at Auburn & the opportunities it gave me.”

For her part, Roberts stands by her reporting, including the on-the-record quotes attributed to the former players.

Tennessee WR Jauan Jennings dismissed after Instagram tirade against Vols coaching staff

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The 2017 season just can’t end quick enough for Tennessee.

Proving that there have been much better days on Rocky Top, the school has reportedly and unexpectedly dismissed wide receiver Jauan Jennings from the team on Wednesday evening — just hours after the junior went on a tirade against the current coaching staff and posted it to his social media accounts.

Jennings reportedly went off earlier in the day at the staff and called them several choice, NSFW names in videos posted to his private Instagram account.

The receiver was somewhat of a surprise return to practice recently as it was expected he was going to miss the rest of the season after being injured in season opener against Georgia Tech. Jennings enter the year as an All-SEC third team selection in the preseason but was limited to just three catches for 17 yards the first half of the Vols’ first game.

Jennings could transfer to another school as he has a redshirt year available and likely would be able to receive a medical redshirt as well. Declaring for the NFL Draft seems the more likely scenario however but one thing is for certain: a return to Tennessee doesn’t look like it’s in the cards after Wednesday’s actions on both sides.

Arkansas names advisory committee for athletic director search to replace Jeff Long

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Arkansas needs a new athletic director so they’re doing what every enterprise in college athletics does when they need to get something done: form a committee.

The school announced on Wednesday that they had formed a seven person search committee to find the Razorback’s next athletic director after firing Jeff Long last week from the same position. Julie Cromer Peoples will continue to serve as the interim AD while Arkansas chancellor Joseph Steinmetz finds the next permanent name for the position.

The committee is quite a diverse group, headlined by LPGA golfer Stacy Lewis (who golfed for the school). Women’s track coach Lance Harter, Board of Trustees chairman Ben Hyneman, professor Gerald Jordan, architecture school dean Peter MacKeith, Razorback Foundation member Rick Massey, and former quarterback turned booster Bill Montgomery.

“I sought to assemble a committee representative of the university, spanning past and present in our academics and athletics history, with knowledge and perspective about Arkansas, and, notably an appreciation of the source of pride the Razorbacks are for the state of Arkansas,” Steinmetz said in a statement. “I have great faith in the approach that each of these advisors will bring to the process and I’d like to thank these folks for their time in this endeavor.”

It remains unclear what, if any, input the committee will have regarding the future of head coach Bret Bielema. His tenure was widely linked to that of Long’s and rumors have already surfaced that the school will quickly let the coach go and begin a full court press to land Auburn’s Gus Malzahn to replace him.

First up though is the team’s final game, which comes at home against Missouri on Friday. Arkansas, sitting at 4-7 on the season, has already been eliminated from bowl contention so the outing will be the team’s last before the future direction of the program gets decided.

AAC commissioner Mike Aresco says league is being disrespected by Playoff selection committee

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Mike Aresco has gone full Rodney Dangerfield.

The AAC commissioner made the rounds with several national media folks on Wednesday, less than 24 hours after seeing a three-loss Mississippi State team jump the conference standard-barer Central Florida in the latest College Football Playoff Selection Committee’s Top 25 rankings. Not only is the American commish claiming that the Knights aren’t getting a “fair shake” by the committee as part of the disrespect shown toward his league, he’s also not happy that one-loss South Florida isn’t even making the cut for the top 25.

“I just don’t think our league is garnering the respect it deserves, period… I feel strongly about it. The evidence is in,” Aresco told ESPN. “We’ve tried to prove for five years how good our conference is. What do we have to do is my question, to prove that we’re a really good league, especially at the top? I just don’t like the notion that, well, strength of schedule, I don’t like to see UCF behind three- and two-loss teams, and I think they can play with anyone. I just don’t know what more we can do.”

Aresco later expanded on his comments and said UCF should be in the top 10 and ahead of two-loss teams like Ohio State.

The fact that Aresco is sticking up for his league and his teams are no surprise but the public way he is going about criticizing the selection committee is a much different tack than previously employed. The AAC remains all but a lock to secure the annual Group of Five bid, which should go to the conference champion among No. 15 UCF, No. 20 Memphis or unranked USF (which would have a chance to beat both of the others in the next two weeks).

CFP executive director Bill Hancock issued a very generic statement in response to Aresco’s comments but his latest salvos should make for some interesting questions next Tuesday when chairman Kirby Hocutt goes in front of the cameras to explain the next set of rankings.

Amid Jimbo Fisher rumors, Florida State continues to explore facilities upgrades

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Jimbo Fisher turned interest from LSU to be their head coach into one of the biggest coach-friendly contracts in the country. Could he be leveraging the same kind of interest from Texas A&M into further facilities upgrades? It appears so.

Hot on the heels of Houston Chronicle report that said Fisher is the top target to replace the eventually deposed Kevin Sumlin in College Station, the Orlando Sentinel says that the Seminoles are exploring a number of different options to give the football program their own sport-specific facility on campus.

“You have no idea,” Fisher told the paper on Monday when asked about the importance of a centralized complex. “Their days are strung out … the schedules they’re on and what they’re asked to do. When you’re wasting time in between, you’re wasting development time for them.”

The Sentinel reports that there are two leading options for the program, the first of which includes a renovation of the team’s current home, the Moore Athletic Center, that would also result in other Seminoles sports moving to a different area for office space and training facilities. The other option would include a brand new football complex that would be built right next to the current indoor practice facility. Things are still in the planning stage at this point but it certainly sounds like things are getting fast-tracked given everything that is going on in the college football world in Tallahassee and beyond.

Whether Fisher leaves or not, it’s pretty clear that Florida State will be looking to build a new football facility for the simple fact that they need to keep up with their peers in the state. Florida is set to break ground in December on their new facility and Miami should have their new indoor facility ready to go by the start of next season. Even USF has laid the groundwork for a $40 million project that will include the latest and greatest for the Bulls football team.