Auburn mess spotlights NCAA flaws

We’re weak. And the law of the jungle says the weak get eaten.’’

Harvey Spector, the TV show “Suits.’’

This one is just so obvious, so easy. Fixing grades. Altering drug tests. Paying players.

Recruiting illegally. It’s all the classics of NCAA rules violations bundled into one.

Auburn is accused of it all. Selena Roberts, the former New York Times and Sports Illustrated writer, broke the story on her site, Not only that, but also that particular Auburn national championship team from two years ago already had the Cam Newton scandal and plenty of other allegations. Everyone already thinks that team was dirty. The coach, Gene Chizik, was already fired.

This one is a 70 mph fastball over the middle of the plate for the NCAA. No, not even that. It’s a ball on a tee. That’s what made NCAA president Mark Emmert’s edgy reaction so telling.

At his annual news conference at the Final Four in Atlanta on Thursday, he defensively snipped at reporters who asked why the NCAA can’t ever uncover its own dirt without the help of reporters. He discredited Roberts.

Look, following the NCAA’s disastrous investigation into Miami, you’d think this would be exactly what it needs. But no. So Emmert’s odd reaction made one thing perfectly clear:

The NCAA can’t do anything about this. It is now way, way too vulnerable.

Nothing is going to happen to Auburn.

The NCAA is weak. It’s on the verge of being eaten.

It is no longer a credible policing force. It botched the Miami thing so badly and unethically, paying lawyers of snitch Nevin Shapiro to do dirty work. Miami is trying to get the whole thing dropped, which is a test of the NCAA’s strength.

Meanwhile, the NCAA violated its own rules in the Penn State investigation, and now is being sued by the Governor of Pennsylvania.

The NCAA already has far too many battles on far too many fronts. It is not prepared for this one.

“So you obviously believe that those allegations are true, and you have evidence that they’re true and you’re saying, `OK, here’s the facts, so why don’t you throw the book at Auburn?’ ’’ Emmert said, when asked why a reporter knows more about what’s happening than the NCAA does, even after it already investigated Auburn. “We have a higher responsibility when we’re saying somebody’s committed some offense than reading a newspaper story. . .

“The notion that I should be surprised or anybody should be surprised that the newspaper story talks about some alleged behavior that we don’t know about is hardly shocking.’’

It was a good argument, a good way to swing the discussion away from why Selena Roberts could get athletes to say things to her, after the NCAA couldn’t.

And the truth is, in some ways, the NCAA is getting an unfair rap on that one point.

College sports are all about rules violations now, and there’s no way for a handful of investigators to stay on top of that entirely.

I know a former investigator of the Securities Exchange Commission who asked me years ago why I thought they had gone so strongly after Martha Stewart.

Because she broke the law?

Sure, partly. But her crimes didn’t amount to anywhere near what happens in big business. So why her?

To make a statement. There was no way to get all the violations around the country, so they needed a big-name example to send the loudest possible message.

Well, the NCAA was planning to make Miami its message. It was going to nail Miami. Instead, it flopped. And now it can’t even give up the fight against Miami, because then it will look even weaker.

And now, along comes Auburn.

“During my tenure at Auburn, the NCAA conducted a multi-year investigation into the Auburn football program that they called `fair and thorough …’ ’’ Chizik said in a statement. “In October 2011, the NCAA rejected ‘rampant public speculation online and in the media.’

“Unfortunately, the recent story published by Selena Roberts is more of the same . . . 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 (Mike McNeil, a main source of allegations) mentioned most prominently in the article is set to go to trial for felony armed robbery.’’

It’s funny that Chizik thinks a statement like that makes him look good.

Now, I can’t judge whether Roberts has the story exactly right. It does need to be scrutinized.

But Chizik has a buyout he needs to protect.

McNeil seems to be suggesting that Auburn and the police are framing him.

And maybe the NCAA thinks it will look bad if Roberts got the goods on Auburn when it didn’t.

I don’t know. I’m not even here to say that the NCAA is botching this thing. Let’s face it. You want justice? Chizik won the national championship two years ago, and now can’t find a job.

He took a fall.

But now people are looking for the NCAA to take away Auburn’s national title. That would give it, presumably, to Oregon.

One problem: Oregon has already acknowledged it paid Willie Lyles and his supposed scouting service $25,000 in early 2010.

Still waiting for the NCAA to make some sort of ruling on that.

Nah. There’s just too much dirt out there, and we’re on the verge of chaos. The NCAA is on the verge of being eaten.