Spice

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.

Brad Nessler to replace Verne Lundquist as voice of SEC on CBS after 2016

WASHINGTON - JANUARY 30:  President of the United States Barack Obama (C) talks to CBS annoucers Clark Kellogg and Verne Lundquist during a college basketball game between Georgetown Hoyas and the Duke Blue Devils on January 30, 2010 at the Verizon Center in Washington DC.  (Photo by Mitchell Layton/Getty Images)
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Rumors have been swirling throughout the off-season, but CBS made the news official on Tuesday by announcing Verne Lundquist will step down as the lead voice of the network’s college football coverage — primarily the SEC, but also Army-Navy and the Sun Bowl — to be replaced by Brad Nessler after the upcoming season.

“Verne has set the standard for college football broadcasting,” CBS Sports chairman Sean McManus said in a statement. “Together with Gary Danielson he has played a key role in making the SEC on CBS the highest-rated college football package in America. After an incredible 17 years, he will be handing the reigns off to Brad, who in his own right is highly acclaimed and respected as one of the premier play-by-play broadcasters in the business. I am very pleased that Verne will still have a prominent role in our college basketball and major championship golf coverage.  We are fortunate to have one more football season to appreciate Verne’s one-of-a-kind storytelling as we pave the way for a seamless and smooth transition to Brad.”

Lunquist will continue with the network covering college basketball and golf, but will cede the college football chair in what was certainly a contract bullet point to lure Nessler away from ESPN.

“Being a part of the SEC on CBS since 2000 has been the most significant assignment I’ve been given in my more than five decades in this business,” said Lundquist. “Now, it’s time to step back and take in the aroma of those tulips, those roses, and those daffodils that friends have been telling me about for years. In 2017, I’ll happily step aside from college football and welcome Brad to the booth. I’ve known Brad for more than 30 years and have always admired his work ethic and his on-air presence. He shares the same passion for college football that I do. The SEC on CBS is in great hands. Brad and Gary will form a great partnership in the years ahead.”

Nessler leaves a plum gig at ESPN, where he, Todd Blackledge and Holly Rowe called the ESPN Saturday primetime game and one of the two College Football Playoff semifinals each of the past two seasons.

“Verne has been a friend for over 30 years and someone I’ve always looked up to in this business,” said Nessler. “I’m not replacing him as it would be impossible to replace Verne. I am truly honored to carry on where he leaves off and work to maintain the standard of excellence he has set calling the SEC on CBS. I am excited to rejoin the CBS Sports team this season and look forward to working alongside Gary again in 2017.”

Texas interim AD Mike Perrin working without a contract

GLENDALE, AZ - JANUARY 05:  The Texas Longhorns mascot "Bevo" is walked onto the field before the Tostitos Fiesta Bowl Game against the Ohio State Buckeyes on January 5, 2009 at University of Phoenix Stadium in Glendale, Arizona.  (Photo by Jed Jacobsohn/Getty Images)
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As more and more money pours into college sports, athletics directors are making more money than ever. All except the leader of one of the most profitable brands in college sports.

According to a report from Mike Finger of the San Antonio Express-News, Texas interim AD Mike Perrin is working without a contract at a reduced rate of quote-unquote only $750,000 a year. Perrin’s predecessor, Steve Patterson, signed a five-year contract starting at $1.4 million a year back in 2013.

Perrin, of course, stepped in for Patterson after his September firing.

Finger notes Perrin’s at-will employment status is common for high-ranking officials under new UT president Greg Fenves.

“Since Mike Perrin is a key member of university leadership, he and president Fenves agreed that his appointment should be consistent with other university leaders and that no formal contract was needed,” spokesman Gary Susswein told the paper.

Perrin’s $750,000 salary basically amounts to volunteering for him after a lengthy and lucrative legal career. Running a business with a $180 million budget on a $750,000 salary is the statistical equivalent to running a $1 million business while bringing home $4,167 a year.

“The situation with Mike at Texas is not normal,” Chuck Neinas said. “He’s made his money (as a lawyer). He’s basically doing the university a favor. He’s an outlier.”

Perrin’s original agreement is set to end on Aug. 31, but his handshake deal with Fenves asks the former Texas football player to run the department through the 2017-18 athletic year.

Hugh Freeze denies Ole Miss staffers knowingly broke NCAA recruiting rules

OXFORD, MS - SEPTEMBER 26:  Head coach Hugh Freeze of the Mississippi Rebels takes the field with his team prior to a game against the Vanderbilt Commodores at Vaught-Hemingway Stadium on September 26, 2015 in Oxford, Mississippi.  (Photo by Stacy Revere/Getty Images)
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In a tweet that he surely regrets on a daily basis, Ole Miss head coach Hugh Freeze famously challenged anyone with information regarding any possible NCAA violations to come forward with them.

“If you have facts about a violation, send it to compliance@olemiss.edu. If not, please do not slander these young men or insult their family,” he posted in a since-deleted tweet on Feb. 1, 2013, the day Freeze inked his highly-touted, highly-controversial class headlined by Laremy TunsilRobert Nkemdiche and Laquon Treadwell.

Which, of course, the NCAA did.

The Rebels were hit with 28 total violations — nine of which the school confirmed originate from Freeze’s staff. And that’s not including the allegations regarding Tunsil that popped up on NFL Draft night.

Ole Miss has suspended unnamed assistants from recruiting in the wake of the NCAA’s Notice of Allegations, but Freeze has denied anyone under his employ knowingly broke rules.

“The first thing I would say is that I own it. That’s part of it when you’re the head coach. You take the good with the bad,” Freeze told ESPN’s Chris Low from the SEC spring meetings in Sandestin, Fla. “But there’s a big difference between making mistakes in recruiting and going out there with the intent to cheat. I don’t have any information that anybody on my staff has been involved in any illegal payments to players or offering any inducements to players, and if I did have that information, I would fire them.”

As for the text messages showing Tunsil asking off-the-field staff member John Miller for mone, which were not included in last week’s release?

“That’s something I can’t talk about right now because both sides are still looking into it, but I feel confident with the report we do have from the NCAA that our staff is not involved in any purposeful breaking of the rules,” Freeze said. “Have we made mistakes in recruiting? Yes, and we’ve taken steps to make sure we don’t make those same mistakes again. But to say me or anybody on my staff is out there cheating to gain advantage just isn’t true.”

To be fair, most of the allegations against the Rebels’ current regime are relatively minor in nature. A comped hotel room here, a loaner car there. Because of that, Freeze said he won’t fire anyone on his staff.

“We’re not going to terminate a guy who makes a mistake and didn’t have any intent to go out and cheat,” Freeze said. “There is no charge in these allegations of a staff member being involved in a payment or offering extra benefits. There’s none of that in there.”

However, there are major allegations against coaches wearing Ole Miss red and blue, as former defensive backs coach Chris Vaughn and operations assistant David Saunders are accused of running an ACT fraud scheme. Unfortunately for Freeze, the NCAA may take out the sins of Houston Nutt‘s staff on his own.

Baylor QB Jarrett Stidham confirms commitment to program

Jarrett Stidham
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Continuing a trend we have witnessed at Baylor over the past week, incoming and future players are looking elsewhere while players already in the program are preparing to stay put. In the past 24 hours, a lot has happened with the program with the resignation of athletics director Ian McCaw following the hiring of head coach Jim Grobe. While the school still works to gain control of the situation, Baylor quarterback Jarrett Stidham announced he intends to stand by the program.

“Can’t wait to get back on that grind [Tuesday] with my brothers,” Stidham said in an update posted on his Instagram account on Monday. “This year is going to be different than the rest in many ways, but either way we will make a statement to everyone. Excited for the opportunity God has presented this team with to overcome adversity and become even closer as a family. Stick with us Baylor nation, we got this.”

Stidham was a major addition to Baylor’s recruiting class in 2015. After initially pledging his commitment to Texas Tech, Stidham later flipped his commitment to Baylor. Although Baylor appears set to have a healthy Seth Russell (who also has been making statements on Instagram) leading the offense this fall, all signs point to Stidham being the starting quarterback in 2017 (if not sooner).

Baylor has managed to keep all current players on the roster in Waco, which is not too surprising. Unless the NCAA chimes in later and drops a hammer of the weight it slammed on Penn State four summers ago (which is perhaps not all that likely to happen for a number of reasons, and they have no comment at this time), there is likely no reason to expect a mass exodus from the current roster. The recruiting game, however, is a different story.

Some key pieces of Baylor’s Class of 2016 — including running back Kameron Martin, offensive lineman Patrick Hudson and offensive tackle J.P. Urquidez  — made the late decision not to enroll in summer courses this week, which means they may still land elsewhere before the start of the fall football season. The Class of 2017 has quickly been dismantled and reduced to just a small handful of players for now as well.

How much Grobe can keep the recruiting ship afloat will be fascinating to watch, especially if he is simply on a one-year deal with no real chance to be the long-term head coach.