According to a report titled “Auburn’s Tainted Title: Victims, Violations and Vendettas for Glory” from former New York Times and Sports Illustrated writer Selena Roberts on her new website Roopstigo.com, Chizik and/or his coaching staff — and/or his predecessors — were responsible for multiple violations of NCAA bylaws including impermissible benefits and academic fraud.
The story ostensibly centers on former Tigers defensive back Mike McNeil, one of four ex-AU football players charged with armed robbery in March of 2011. McNeil was one of a handful of former players quoted on the record for Roberts’ piece, a group that included wide receiver Darvin Adams, defensive end Mike Blanc, defensive end Antoine Carter and defensive back Neiko Thorpe. Other unnamed sources were utilized in the story, on which AU officials have thus far declined to comment.
McNeil, who’s scheduled to go on trial later this month and faces 21 years to life in prison if convicted, leveled most but not all of the accusations included in the article. Some of those include:
— After being rebuffed by his computer science instructor and that instructor’s supervisor in an attempt to get a grade changed, McNeil claims he went to an athletic department counselor with his problem. “Within days… the grade was changed from an F to a C and he did not miss a game,” Roberts wrote. Additionally, three of the players claimed that nine players, including star running back Michael Dyer, should not have played in the BCS championship game against Oregon in January of 2011 because they were academically ineligible. “Auburn found a way to make those dudes eligible,” Blanc was quoted as saying.
— Adams, who set an SEC championship game record with 217 receiving yards that sent the Tigers to the BCS title game, claimed that he was offered financial incentives — McNeil and Blanc claimed it was several thousands of dollars — by the AU coaching staff to return to the Tigers for the 2011 season. Instead, Adams turned pro early and went undrafted.
— Following “a difficult day at practice in 2007,” McNeil claims that then-defensive coordinator and current Florida head coach Will Muschamp handed him $400 in cash and asked, “is this enough? Is this good?” Through a UF spokesperson, Muschamp, who left AU for Texas following that season, denied such a payment was made.
— McNeil claimed that he was given $500 to host 2008 recruit and eventual 2009 Alabama signee Dre Kirkpatrick — the NCAA limit is $50. “If I’m a star player and I’m a likable person, and a recruit comes in at my position, then, of course, I’m going to take him under my wing,” McNeil said in the article. “If a star recruit was in town, you would get a lot more than the NCAA limit.”
In addition to no reaction from the university, neither Chizik nor his agent have been available for comment, although one of the most-quoted players in the piece offered up this curious reaction via Twitter once the story went viral.
“Man this article is outrageous and isn’t true. The media will do anything for a juicy story smh #sad,” Blanc tweeted this evening.
Roberts’ blockbuster is the latest in a long line of accusations leveled against the AU football program that stretch back to months before their 2010 BCS title.
The most publicized scrutiny involved the recruitment of Newton, the Heisman-winning quarterback who left The Plains after one title-winning season for the NFL. The NCAA investigated the allegations — that Newton’s services could be obtained during the recruiting process for a substantial financial “donation” to the player’s father — and ultimately determined that no violations had occurred.
Interestingly, there was no mention of Newton in Roberts’ report that focused primarily on that championship season.
In addition to the Newton imbroglio, the AU football program has been investigated over the past two years by the NCAA regarding its recruiting practices… allegations made by four former players on an HBO show… Tiger Prowl… Jovon Robinson… two now-former ace recruiters and their recruitment of Robinson… and that’s about all for now as you get the point.
The NCAA has yet to respond to requests for comment, although they understandably have more pressing issues on their collective plates.
UPDATED 9:21 p.m. ET: In a pair of tweets posted to his Twitter account, Neiko Thorpe claims that he was misquoted by Roberts in her story.
“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 context. We didn’t talk about NCAA violations or recruiting. I’m proud 2 have played at Auburn & the opportunities it gave me.”
For her part, Roberts stands by her reporting, including the on-the-record quotes attributed to the former players.