Eubanks: Allegations cast pall over Auburn
Auburn's spring game kicks off on Saturday (2 p.m. EST). And while Gus Malzahn's no-huddle offense will, indeed, take the field with battles at quarterback, receiver and tailback expected, the defense should garner the most attention.
Not the 11 guys lining up on the defensive side of the football, but the defense the entire institution uses as Auburn once again tries to beat back accusations of scandal.
In the three weeks since Selena Roberts wrote her now-famous piece, alleging that Auburn players from the 2010 National Championship team were paid cash from coaches and had grades changed in order to remain eligible, the institution has gone into virtual lockdown on the subject.
The day after the story broke, with most of the named sourcing coming from former players facing charges of armed robbery, Auburn athletics director Jay Jacobs released a statement that read:
"Any time 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."
That same week, another story broke on ESPN claiming dozens of players from the 2010 SEC/BCS champs used synthetic marijuana that went undetected because Auburn didn't start testing for the substance until after the season.
Jacobs took to the typewriter again, this time with an open letter to the Auburn family that read, in part:
"We cooperated with 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.
"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, 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."
Since then, no Auburn coach or administrator has commented publicly on the matter.
In some respects, you have to feel sorry for Jacobs and Auburn administrative staff. For example, the claim that synthetic marijuana testing didn't go into effect until after the Tigers’ BCS title win over Oregon is accurate. But that was because the testing company didn't have a test for synthetic marijuana until Jan. 24, 2011. Three days later, the school began testing.
Critics will claim this timing was too coincidental, but Auburn has documented evidence that it assisted in the development of the test every step of the way.
Still, the hits have come from all sides. From the Cam Newton scandal — in which the NCAA found that Newton's father shopped his son to the highest bidder, but neither the player nor the school did anything wrong — to the four players who were arrested for robbery in a trailer park and the Michael Dyer debacle, Jacobs has attempted to put out one fire after another.
The problem now is that rather than focusing on the reclamation project that Malzahn has on his hands, fans, media, friends and enemies will likely spend the summer wondering what shoe will drop next.
It would be one thing if Auburn administrators could claim to have put it all behind them when they fired coach Gene Chizik. But Malzahn was right there on the sidelines in 2010, coaching his Heisman Trophy-winning, scandal-plagued quarterback (Newton) to one of the greatest individual seasons in college football history.
On Saturday, Malzahn will coach quarterbacks Kiehl Frazier and Jonathan Wallace in a glorified scrimmage in front of thousands of Auburn fans.
But the mounting claims of impropriety will continue to cast a pall over The Plains. And until that is lifted, what happens on the field will be little more than a secondary distraction.