Gene Chizik

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.

Georgia AD apologizes for giving Ludacris everything he demanded for spring game concert

Greg McGarity
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The University of Georgia paid Ludacris $65,000 to perform a concert at Georgia’s spring football game, and now the athletics director is apologizing for catering to every demand made by the artist.

In a meeting with the Georgia athletic board of directors, athletics director Greg McGarity offered an apology for giving in to a lengthy list of demands from Ludacris, which included condoms and alcohol.

“I do want to take this opportunity to apologize to our board for mistakes we made with certain aspects of the details of an entertainment agreement,” McGarity said, according to The Athens Banner-Herald. “Few things in my professional life have bothered me more than this situation. There are no reruns in life so we need to turn the page, learn from our mistakes and do everything we can to make sure errors of this nature do not reoccur.”

Georgia set a school attendance record for its spring game with an estimated total of 93,000 fans coming out for the first spring game under new head coach Kirby Smart. Of course, more than a few of those fans were encouraged to come out to see Ludacris perform, so it all worked out well for Georgia even if some people were not happy with the goods supplied to him during his stay.

“Some more than others as far as different age groups,” McGarrity said of the people expressing their displeasure with Georgia’s hospitality. “It was all over the map. I think there were a lot of things that came into play.”

Auburn RB Roc Thomas apparently heading to Jacksonville State

AUBURN, AL - SEPTEMBER 6: Running back Roc Thomas #9 of the Auburn Tigers runs the ball in for a touchdown as offensive linesman Jordan Diamond #76 of the Auburn Tigers blocks safety Forrest Hightower #12 of the San Jose State Spartans on September 6, 2014 at Jordan-Hare Stadium in Auburn, Alabama. Auburn defeated San Jose State 59-13.  (Photo by Michael Chang/Getty Images)
Photo by Michael Chang/Getty Images
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Auburn running back Roc Thomas is possibly looking to join one of the top programs from the FCS ranks. Reports today surfaced suggesting Thomas is looking to transfer to Jacksonville State, although another report says he has yet to ask Auburn for a request to transfer.

During a radio interview, Jay G. Tate of AuburnSports.com said Thomas is likely on his way to Jacksonville State…

As that message was spreading around the college football landscape, largely under the ominous storm cloud from Waco, Texas, SEC Country updated their report by saying Thomas has not yet made a request to transfer from Auburn. That may have been accurate, but may not suggest a transfer to Jacksonville State is off the table. It could just be a matter of semantics, where Thomas is set to join the Jacksonville State program but still must go through the formalities of transferring from Auburn.

Thomas does have two years of eligibility remaining.

Following dismissal of Art Briles, how will Baylor handle coaching decision in 2016 and beyond?

ARLINGTON, TX - JANUARY 01:  Baylor Bears head coach Art Briles looks from the sideline against the  Michigan State Spartans during the first half of the Goodyear Cotton Bowl Classic at AT&T Stadium on January 1, 2015 in Arlington, Texas.  (Photo by Sarah Glenn/Getty Images)
Photo by Sarah Glenn/Getty Images
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Baylor made the decision Thursday to indefinitely suspend head coach Art Briles with the intent to terminate his contract. In simpler terms, he’s fired but likely has a few legal hurdles for Baylor to clear before that is legally finalized. With the coaching decision coming in late May, it looks very likely Baylor is about to embark on a path previously traveled by Ohio State. That ended up working out pretty well for the Buckeyes, so perhaps there is a glimmer of hope for the Bears in the long run as the program looks to crawl out from underneath the dark cloud that floats above it today.

The severity of the consequences facing Ohio State in late May 2011 and the Baylor program today has no comparison, there should be some similarities to what happens next for Baylor. Jim Tresselresigned” from his post as head coach of the Buckeyes on May 30, 2011. At the time, Tressel was facing a two-game suspension for lying during an investigation regarding Ohio State players and impermissible benefits. As a result, Ohio State was faced with a late search for a new head coach with little time to spare for the 2011 college football season. Rather than get involved in an awkwardly timed coaching search, Ohio State named Luke Fickell the interim head coach for the 2011 season, while the national search could continue to lure in the biggest fish possible. That would end up being Urban Meyer, and things have worked out well in the years to follow.

A similar situation also played out at Arkansas when Bobby Petrino, although on another set of circumstances not comparable to the Baylor scandal. Petrino was fired by Arkansas earlier in the spring as well, with his removal as head coach coming on April 10, 2012 after lying about the details of his motorcycle accident and relationship with an Arkansas staff member. Arkansas managed to hire a new head coach for the 2012 season, naming John L. Smith the full-time head coach. However, Smith was let go after a 4-8 season that fall and ultimately replaced by Brett Bielema.

Given the timing of the coaching change in Waco, it would be expected the Bears will name a current member of the coaching staff their interim coach for the 2016 season, even though the findings of an external review of the university and athletics department made some strong accusations of various members of the coaching staff. But Baylor has little choice for what already is taking on the look of a potentially lost season for the Bears. Regardless, football will be played and somebody has to lead the team on the sidelines. Who that interim coach will be remains unknown, but given the information in the report it is also expected Baylor will wipe the slate clean with its next permanent head coach.

Odds are there will be no coach of the caliber of Meyer to come swoop in and restore pride in the program in short time. Baylor has a number of issues to address as a university, athletics department and a football program. The Baylor job may still be seen by coaching candidates as a better job as it once traditionally was, but any coach coming in for the Baylor job will be entering a pretty dark period of time, and that does not even account for any response the NCAA may eventually have on the situation.

Report says Baylor coaches met with sexual violence victims and impeded Title IX procedures

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The details coming out from the independent review of the Baylor football program are beginning to shed light on a number of concerns floating around the football program, which ultimately led to the decision to remove Art Briles as the head coach of the Bears. Among the damning allegations made by an external review from Pepper Hamilton is the information showing members of the Baylor coaching staff choosing not to report incidents of sexual violence involving football players, meeting directly with those filing complaints of sexual abuse and handled their own investigations outside of university policy to discredit the complainants and denied them the right to a fair investigation by the university.

These two paragraphs from the report put it all together in what is clearly not a good look for the Baylor program;

Baylor failed to take appropriate action to respond to reports of sexual assault and dating violence reportedly committed by football players. The choices made by football staff and athletics leadership, in some instances, posed a risk to campus safety and the integrity of the University. In certain instances, including reports of a sexual assault by multiple football players, athletics and football personnel affirmatively chose not to report sexual violence and dating violence to an appropriate administrator outside of athletics. In those instances, football coaches or staff met directly with a complainant and/or a parent of a complainant and did not report the misconduct. As a result, no action was taken to support complainants, fairly and impartially evaluate the conduct under Title IX, address identified cultural concerns within the football program, or protect campus safety once aware of a potential pattern of sexual violence by multiple football players.

In addition, some football coaches and staff took improper steps in response to disclosures of sexual assault or dating violence that precluded the University from fulfilling its legal obligations. Football staff conducted their own untrained internal inquiries, outside of policy, which improperly discredited complainants and denied them the right to a fair, impartial and informed investigation, interim measures or processes promised under University policy. In some cases, internal steps gave the illusion of responsiveness to complainants but failed to provide a meaningful institutional response under Title IX. Further, because reports were not shared outside of athletics, the University missed critical opportunities to impose appropriate disciplinary action that would have removed offenders from campus and possibly precluded future acts of sexual violence against Baylor students. In some instances, the football program dismissed players for unspecified team violations and assisted them in transferring to other schools. As a result, some football coaches and staff abdicated responsibilities under Title IX and Clery; to student welfare; to the health and safety of complainants; and to Baylor’s institutional values.

The report goes on to say the Baylor football staff took it upon themselves to handle discipline internally rather than let the university take control.

“Football coaches and staff took affirmative steps to maintain internal control over discipline of players and to actively divert cases from the student conduct or criminal processes,” the report says.

The internal discipline process of the Baylor football program is not unique to Baylor, as many programs have their own internal disciplinary system within a football program, but a lengthy list of recommendations made to the university include educating coaches and staff members with reporting Title IX violations and more according to university policy, which itself will surely be revamped as a result of this report. It was also recommended the university and athletics department establish a clear disciplinary consequences for personnel who fail to follow reporting and documentation protocols.