Bombshell. Explosive. Alarming.
These are a few of the words that have been used to describe Selena Roberts' piece titled "Auburn's Tainted Title: Victims, Violations and Vendettas for Glory" that was posted on Roopstigo.com late Wednesday afternoon.
Apparently the definitions of those words have changed since Auburn football scandals began dominating the news in the fall of 2010, because Roberts' piece is far from a bombshell.
The centerpiece is former Auburn safety Mike McNeil, one of four players arrested for armed robbery in March 2011. McNeil's trial is scheduled to start next week, during which time he is expected to fight the charges and maintain his innocence. If found guilty, he could face 21 years to life in prison.
Roberts details several NCAA violations through her interaction with McNeil and other former Tiger players, including accusations of academic fraud, distribution of improper benefits to both current players and recruits, and a culture of failed drug tests.
Or, to put it the way Roberts termed it in the second paragraph, "it's a story that may prove to be a tripwire to imploding a powerful and storied athletic institution."
If Auburn wasn't brought down by the Cam Newton situation, four players going on HBO and hurling pay-for-play accusations on worldwide television or the myriad of other different stories that have come its way since 2010, then it's not going to be brought down by this.
The reason is simple: In those situations the key characters agreed to parts or all of their respective stories. Nearly everyone other than McNeil and his family have done the opposite in this case.
Mike Blanc, former defensive lineman for the Tigers, vehemently stated that he was misquoted in virtually all aspects of the story—including accusations that former wide receiver Darvin Adams was offered "several thousand dollars" to stay for his senior season and that as many as nine teammates would be ruled academically ineligible for the 2011 BCS National Championship Game following the 2010 season (via: AuburnSports.com):
When Mike McNeil told me I would receive a call from her, he just said this is a lady that's trying to help my case and she wants to know some things about my character. If I knew she was going to slander Auburn and slander my name, I never would have talked to her. Mike is a teammate of ours and if it was something that could help him, I'm all about helping anybody. But if I knew it was to slander and talk badly about people, I never would have agreed to talk to her.
Former Auburn defensive back Neiko Thorpe was quoted in the story in regards to the circumstances surrounding McNeil's arrest, the response from the coaching staff and McNeil's assertion that hosts were given more than allowed $50 per day when a top prospect is on campus. His response to the piece was posted on his Twitter account:
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 (1/2)— Neiko Thorpe (@Neiko15) April 4, 2013
context. We didn't talk about NCAA violations or recruiting. I'm proud 2 have played at Auburn & the opportunities it gave me (2/2)— Neiko Thorpe (@Neiko15) April 4, 2013
Antoine Carter, who is quoted as saying that players with dreadlocks and tattoos were targeted by police and subject to more than the normal amount of drug tests, posted his response on Twitter as well:
Please dont remix my words— Antoine Carter (@AC45AU) April 4, 2013
And this is supposed to be the story that is the "tripwire to implode a powerful and storied athletic institution"? That seems impossible if the majority of its major players disagree with the premise.
Roberts clarified and defended her reporting and the quotes attributed to the players on AL.com.
"It takes a lot of courage to speak the truth and to go out and have some conviction about, you know, a subject that would be very popular, obviously," she said of Mike Blanc. "A subject that, let's face it, at Auburn, draws a lot of backlash. I think it's unfortunate that he's taking that stance, but given the pressure he's under I can see how it happens."
Good for her for standing by her side. But do you think the players quoted in the story are going to talk to the NCAA after being allegedly misquoted in the story? I don't.
Instead, this story reads more like a jilted lover desperately fighting to make himself look like a victim to a jury pool. A good defense perhaps, especially considering McNeil maintains his innocence. But it's lacking in the NCAA violations department.
That's what the majority of the story is, an insight into the reaction from players and coaches in the hours and days immediately following McNeil's arrest.
Was everything handled properly by the coaching staff and the Auburn Police Department? Probably not. But what did McNeil expect the reaction from the coaches to be? After all, it's not like he was arrested for underage drinking. He was arrested for armed robbery.
Let's assume for a minute that every accusation levied against Auburn since the start of the 2010 season was 100 percent accurate. The money handshakes detailed on the HBO special, Cecil Newton's pay-for-play discussion, grade changing. All of them.
The fact that Auburn has gotten away with all of it suggests that it's pretty darn good at cheating.
So are we really to believe that Will Muschamp—a hotshot assistant coach at the time—would really slide $400 to McNeil in his own office? Do Auburn coaches really believe that offering Adams "several thousand dollars" would be the hook to keep him from earning, at the very worst, the minimum NFL practice squad salary of $5,700 per week? During the height of the Cam Newton investigation?
Blanc is quoted as saying that "Auburn found a way to make those dudes eligible" in regards to the players supposedly being academically ineligible. So it finds ways to make players academically eligible, but targets players with dreadlocks and tattoos with an inordinate amount of drug tests? Even though, according to Auburn's student-athlete handbook (page 288-289), a second positive test would cost a player 50 percent of his season?
It can't work both ways.
Roberts' story is interesting, no doubt. The allegations in the story are certainly worth looking into. But if you're expecting this to be the start of the downfall of the Auburn football program, you're going to be disappointed.
That's not to say that the allegations aren't true. They very well might be. But there are three sides to every story, and so far we've only heard two.
The third—commonly known as the truth—probably lies somewhere in between. Until that comes out, let's hold off on portraying this as the lynchpin to the inevitable collapse of Auburn Football.
It's far from it.
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