Auburn fires back at ESPN’s fake weed story

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And the gloves have come off.

As we wade our way through the morass created by Selena Roberts‘ salacious story alleging misconduct in the Auburn football program, ESPN the Magazine/E:60 released a report Thursday evening alleging a synthetic marijuana — spice — epidemic on the Tigers’ 2010 BCS championship team.  Specifically, the WWL and its sources alleged that a dozen football players from that team failed tests for “the designer drug” and that another dozen players used it but were never caught.

Now, this is where things get interesting.

According to a statement released Thursday night by Auburn attributed to athletic director Jay Jacobs, a test for the fake weed was not made available by the university’s testing company until January 24, 2011; “Auburn added the test to its panel on Jan. 27, 2011,” Jacobs said in his statement.  That addition would’ve come nearly three weeks after AU won its first national championship in over five decades after beating Oregon in the BCS title game.

In August of 2011, seven months after the screening began at Auburn, the NCAA added “spice” to its list of banned substances according to Rivals.com.

Another allegation in the ESPN story was that while Jacobs and then-head coach Gene Chizik were “aware of the football team’s 12 positive tests for synthetic marijuana, they kept the results secret, even from the parents of the players.”  From Jacobs’ statement:

A parent interviewed told ESPN they would have done more to help her son had we done more to let her know he was in trouble. That is incorrect. The facts demonstrate that our coaches and Sports Medicine professionals had regular communication with the parents and that every effort was made to warn our student-athletes about the dangers of synthetic marijuana.

What those facts are that could demonstrate communication are not clear.

Additionally, the parent of a former Auburn football (anonymously) took head-on the accusations by ESPN that positive spice tests were kept secret.  From Rivals.com:


One parent of an Auburn player that tested positive for “spice” during that time period disagrees.

“It’s just false and inaccurate. As a parent, I was notified, so that bumps the fact that no parents were notified,” said one parent that wishes to remain anonymous. “I haven’t seen the ESPN story, but if they said the parents weren’t notified, that’s not true. I was called and I know two other parents that were notified, too.

“I know for sure two, from me seeing them down there. If they notified me and two other parents, if there was anyone else, I’m sure they were told. I don’t understand this.”

So, yes, this is officially a mess.  A mess of media reports counterpunched by an institution that’s had its fair share of scrapes with the investigative arm — such as it is anymore — of the NCAA over the past couple of years.  An NCAA that in no way, shape or form has even a semblance of credibility left to even think about launching yet another investigation while it’s mired in internal ineptness of epic proportions.

And, for those who are interested in full disclosure, below the jump are the two statements released by Auburn Thursday night.  The first is what AU describes as a statement provided to ESPN the Magazine on March 29, the second an open letter to the Auburn family by Jacobs.  Make of them what you will…

After a thorough internal review, the Auburn Athletics Department believes many of the allegations made by the individuals interviewed for this story are baseless and inaccurate.

As the District Attorney told a jury in open court a year ago, Auburn football and Auburn’s policies had nothing to do with what happened the night that four former football players were arrested for armed robbery. Unfortunately, the defendants in this case are simply facing the consequences of their actions.

The facts clearly demonstrate that the Auburn Athletics Department and the Committee on Intercollegiate Athletics acted appropriately and aggressively in response to the growing threat of synthetic marijuana during the 2010-2011 academic year.

Auburn Athletics began testing its student-athletes for synthetic marijuana three days after a test became available. Since our drug testing policy was amended to include synthetic marijuana as a banned substance, there have been three positive tests for the drug out of more than 2,500 drug tests administered.

All of our student-athletes are regularly educated on the harms of all types of substance use and abuse, including synthetic marijuana. In addition to education, any student-athletes who test positive for drugs are required to seek professional counseling.

Auburn Athletics has always and will continue to put the well being of our student-athletes at the forefront of our mission.

____________________

Dear Auburn Family,

You may have seen a story on ESPN.com this evening about the former Auburn football players who were dismissed two years ago for their involvement in an armed robbery.

The story chronicles the former players’ use of synthetic marijuana, which the defendants in the robbery case have used as their primary defense in court. We expect another, more in-depth story to appear in an upcoming print edition of ESPN The Magazine.

We cooperated with ESPN in the story because of how appropriately and aggressively the Auburn Athletics Department and the Committee on Intercollegiate Athletics acted in response to the growing threat of synthetic marijuana during the 2010-2011 academic year.

As a father of three, I sympathize with the parents of the young men who face prison sentences for their alleged involvement in the armed robbery. While they have a right to speak out, I have an obligation to share the facts, which clearly show Auburn Athletics tried to help these former student-athletes.

Some of the statements made in the story are wrong and need to be corrected, while others need to be put into proper context. One player interviewed by ESPN, for example, alleges that up to half of the 2010 football team was using synthetic marijuana. It’s hard to be more wrong than that. The facts and our drug testing results simply do not support such a claim.

A parent interviewed told ESPN they would have done more to help her son had we done more to let her know he was in trouble. That is incorrect. The facts demonstrate that our coaches and Sports Medicine professionals had regular communication with the parents and that every effort was made to warn our student-athletes about the dangers of synthetic marijuana.

Allow me to share with you the facts that we provided to the reporter. Some of them were included in the initial story. Some were not.

• Auburn Athletics began testing for synthetic marijuana three days after our testing company made a test available. A test became available on Jan. 24, 2011, and Auburn added the test to its panel on Jan. 27, 2011.
• Since our drug testing policy was amended to include synthetic marijuana as a banned substance, there have been three positive tests for the drug out of more than 2,500 drug tests administered. Those three individuals are no longer on Auburn Athletics rosters.
• As soon as our Director of Sports Medicine was aware that synthetic marijuana was a drug readily available in convenience stores in the fall of 2010, Auburn Athletics contacted our drug testing company to inquire about whether they had a test for synthetic marijuana and when one would be made available. They did not have a test at the time.
At the same time, our Director of Sports Medicine began education efforts aimed at our coaches and student-athletes.
• Auburn Athletics provided urine samples to the drug testing company to assist them in their efforts to develop a test.
• The Director of Sports Medicine and former Coach Gene Chizik both addressed the football team about the dangers of synthetic marijuana at multiple team meetings in the Fall of 2010, before a test was available. A story about the drug was placed on the locker of every football player on the team.
• Within the first few months of testing, 3 percent of our student-athletes tested positive for synthetic marijuana.
• Phone records show that more than 50 phone calls were made to the parents of two former student-athletes who were interviewed by ESPN.
• The father of one of the student-athletes who was apparently interviewed by ESPN was sent a letter informing him that his son had failed a drug test for regular marijuana two months before the robbery.
• The Auburn Drug Testing/Drug Education Advisory Committee recommended to the Committee on Intercollegiate Athletics that synthetic marijuana be added to the Auburn Athletics drug testing policy on March 14, 2011. The policy change was adopted that day.
• Penalties for the use of synthetic marijuana were put into place for the next academic year beginning in August of 2011. Since it became a banned substance under the drug testing policy, only three student-athletes have tested positive for synthetic marijuana out of more than 2,500 tests administered.

I hope the facts clear up any misconceptions about drug use among our student-athletes. It is important for you to know that Auburn Athletics conducts approximately 1,500 drug tests each academic year. Less than one percent of our student-athletes test positive for illegal substances.

LOOK: Arizona State to wear Pat Tillman-themed uniforms

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Pat Tillman is essentially the Knute Rockne of Arizona State football, the central figure that will be as important to the program 100 years from now as he is today. And while Notre Dame will wear Rockne-themed uniforms later this season, so, too, will Arizona State.

The program revealed Tillman-centric uniforms on Monday for their Nov. 4 game with Colorado, based on the uniform Tillman wore as a member of the U.S. Army while fighting in Afghanistan.

Tillman played linebacker at Arizona State from 1994-97 (he was named the Pac-10’s Defensive Player of the Year as a senior) and then spent four seasons with the Arizona Cardinals before the events of 9/11 inspired him to join the U.S. Army. He was a member of the Army Rangers before he was killed in action in Afghanistan on April 22, 2004, at age 27.

Arizona State unveiled a Tillman statue at Sun Devil Stadium at its season-opening win over New Mexico State.

“Pat spent his whole life trying to be the best person he could possibly be,” Kevin Tillman, Pat’s brother, said at the unveiling. “He didn’t focus on money, he didn’t focus on fame, he didn’t focus on a pretty statue. It was, ‘How can I make myself a better person in all these different facets of my life?’ And ASU gave him an opportunity to do that.”

Jim McElwain says family, players have received death threats over 3-3 start

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Florida has lost two in a row and is off to a 3-3 start, and that streak will probably reach three on Saturday after the Gators meet No. 3 Georgia. While everyone knows SEC fans are passionate about their football, some have taken Florida’s struggles too far.

How far? By threatening to kill the players and coaches.

“I think it’s a pretty good lesson for the way things are,” head coach Jim McElwain said, via Only Gators. “There’s a lot of hate in this world and a lot of anger. And yet, it’s freedom to show it. The hard part is, obviously, when it’s threats against your own players, death threats to your families, the ill will that’s brought upon out there. And yet, I think it’s really one of those deals that really is a pretty good testament to what’s going on out there nationally. There’s a lot of angry people, and in this business, we’re the ones you take the shots at. And that’s the way it is.”

In my experience, it seems people lodging death threats are far more serious about the threat part than the, uh, other. But that’s easy for me to say, I’ve never received one.

Report: Sam Darnold expected to return to USC in 2018

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Sam Darnold was appointed the No. 1 pick of the 2018 NFL Draft on the second day of 2017. As a redshirt freshman, Darnold torched Penn State to the tune of 33-of-53 passing for 453 yards with five touchdowns and one interception in a 52-49 Rose Bowl win.

One problem, though. Darnold hasn’t played like a No. 1 pick this season.

While he hasn’t been the most disappointing player on what’s turning out to be a disappointing USC team, Darnold has posted pedestrian numbers (for him): hitting 63.5 percent of his passes for an even eight yards per attempt with 17 touchdowns against 10 interceptions. He ranks 38th nationally in passing efficiency. This puts him, coincidentally, one spot ahead of former USC quarterback Max Browne.

On Monday, NFL Draft analyst Benjamin Allbright shared a report that Darnold is expected to return to USC next season.

Considering Ronald Jones could return next season and that Stephen Carr is just a freshman, the prospect of Darnold returning in 2018 has to take the sting out of a lost 2017 for Trojans fans.

Texas QB Sam Ehlinger, C Zach Shackelford in concussion protocol

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Texas has lost two straight upset bids in strikingly similar fashion: true freshman quarterback Sam Ehlinger leads a potential-game winning drive, scrambles, hits his head on the turf and ends the possession in a puzzling throw.

The first came in last week’s loss to No. 10 Oklahoma. Trailing 29-24 late in the fourth quarter, scrambled for two yards to the Texas-48 yard line but hit his head on the Cotton Bowl turf and was forced to leave the game for five plays. Shane Buechele pushed the Longhorns to the Oklahoma 31, but he was replaced after a sack and Ehlinger ended up throwing the ball away on 4th-and-13 from the OU 34 with two minutes to play. That, as they say, was that.

Fast forward to Saturday and Texas was trailing No. 11 Oklahoma State 13-10 in overtime when Ehlinger opened the possession with a scramble that again saw the back of his head bang against the Royal-Texas Memorial Stadium turf. He stayed in the game this time, but ended the game on a puzzling (to say the least) interception to absolutely no one on 3rd-and-4 from the OSU 6.

While Ehlinger was not evaluated for a concussion during the game, he did not practice Sunday and head coach Tom Herman said Monday that Ehlinger and center Zach Shackelford are in concussion protocol.

Complicating matters for Texas is that sophomore back-up Shane Buechele is playing on a gimpy ankle that kept him out against San Jose State and Kansas State that Herman said will not improve as the season goes on.

No matter, Texas will face a hungry Baylor team on Saturday (noon ET, ESPNU) that nearly completed a comeback against No. 22 West Virginia on Saturday night.