The Gene Chizik era at Auburn ended when the school fired him after a 3-9 record in 2012, but violations during the former coach's tenure may shake the Tigers program to its core.
According to former Sports Illustrated and New York Times investigative reporter Selena Roberts (via her website, Roopstigo.com), three former Auburn players have admitted to rampant NCAA rules violations by the football program.
UPDATE: Thursday, April 4, at 6:50 p.m ET by Eric Ball
The reactions to the bombshell report keep coming in. The latest is from Auburn athletic director Jay Jacobs (via Al.com):
"Anytime accusations are made against Auburn, we take them seriously. We have no reason to believe these allegations are either accurate or credible. However, as a matter of procedure, we are reviewing them carefully. It is important to note that several of the sources in this story have since indicated they were either misquoted, quoted out of context or denied the allegations."
"Unfortunately, the reporter who published this story did not fully represent to us what the story was about when requesting an interview. We were only told that the reporter was working on a story about the alleged armed robbery involving four former football players, which occurred over two years ago.
We were never told the story would include allegations about academic fraud or improper benefits. Had we known that, we would have responded immediately with the statement above."
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UPDATE: Thursday, April 4, at 4:49 p.m ET by Eric Ball
"During my tenure at Auburn, the NCAA conducted a multi-year investigation into the Auburn football program that they called “fair and thorough.” The NCAA focused intently on widespread accusations about Auburn players being paid and other alleged recruiting violations. The NCAA conducted 80 interviews. In October 2011, the NCAA rejected “rampant public speculation online and in the media.”
"Unfortunately, Ms. Roberts’ story is long on accusation and inference, but short on facts and logic. It is noteworthy that the story comes just days before a player mentioned most prominently in the article is set to go to trial for felony armed robbery. The statements are very generalized accusations devoid of substance. During my time as Auburn’s head coach, I never authorized, instructed or directed anyone to change any player’s grade or provide any type of illegal payment to any student-athlete. Likewise, I am not aware of any alleged grade change or illegal payment by any member of my coaching staff, support staff or anyone else."
"During my tenure as Auburn’s head coach, we kept the well-being of our student- athletes at the forefront of every decision. We ran our program with the highest level of integrity and accountability. Period. I make absolutely no apologies for that. I stand firm in my statements, my support of Auburn University, its student- athletes (present and former), faculty, staff and community officials. As I stated during the NCAA investigation, I am comforted knowing that the truth always prevails."
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UPDATE: Thursday, April 4, at 1:46 p.m ET by Tom Kinslow
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UPDATE: Thursday, April 4, at 8:15 a.m ET by Michael Cahill
We'll continue to update this story as it evolves.
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Among those that could be the most earth-shattering to the program are the grade-tampering allegations. The three players questioned by Roberts said as many as nine players saw their grades changed prior to the 2010 BCS National Championship Game, including star running back Michael Dyer.
"We thought we would be without Mike Dyer because he said he was one of them, but Auburn found a way to make those dudes eligible," said former defensive end Mike Blanc.
Dyer went on to rush for 133 yards on 22 carries in the title game, as Auburn defeated Oregon 22-19 to finish off its undefeated season. He later left the program for an unspecified violation of team rules in 2012.
Dyer has denied these allegations through his uncle Andre, per ESPN's Joe Schad.
Roberts does not stop with grade-tampering, though. Auburn’s other areas of malfeasance include payments of players to forgo the NFL draft, exceeding NCAA-mandated player per-diems and spending lavishly on visits from top-flight recruits.
Former team safety Mike McNeil said receiver Darvin Adams was offered a big financial windfall to stay at Auburn for his senior season. Adams refused to disclose the dollar amount but was reportedly offered “several thousand dollars” to stick around. Though he reportedly declined the cash, declared for the draft and went unselected, Adams said he remained happy about his decision.
“It was sugar-coated in a way,” said Adams. “It was like, we’ll do this and that for you. But I’d rather do things the right way. I am happy I didn’t say yes to that stuff. That’s what I’d tell kids.”
Though most of these violations will rock the Auburn community, one name in particular could pique the NCAA’s interest about a fellow SEC school.
Roberts' report cites, via McNeil, then-Auburn defensive coordinator and current Florida head coach Will Muschamp as one of the coaches who directly handed money to a former player. McNeil recalls an instance where Muschamp gave him $400 in cash in 2007.
While these reports remain unverified, the impact could be crushing to Auburn. The Tigers’ 2010 national title was the only real lasting image of Chizik’s career at the school, with Cam Newton standing triumphant as arguably the greatest quarterback in school history.
If these reports wind up being substantiated, the NCAA could enact swift, harsh penalties to the Tigers—possibly even strip them of a national championship.
This saga is in its infancy, so expect to hear much of the story in the coming days.