AUBURN FOOTBALL SCANDAL: Tigers face allegations, fans on all sides react predictably

WHERE THERE'S SMOKE, THERE'S FIRE, PAWWWL. LOOK AT ALL THAT SMOKE COMIN' OUTTA THE AWBARN LOCKER ROOM. - John Reed-US PRESSWIRE

Once again, Auburn is in the news for all the wrong reasons. Is there any truth to the scandalous allegations? Should you even care?

I really didn't want to address this. Selena Roberts of Roopstigo (lolwutermelon.jpg) and ESPN The Magazine's Shaun Assael published stories in the last 48 hours, presenting evidence that OMG THE BARN IS BURNIN. I'm tired of this kind of bullshit, and I've done my best to ignore it. I truly don't care about this story, but since it won't go away, and I manage an Auburn blog, I guess I have to throw in my two cents.

Before I get into specifics, let me just say this: If you're eating up every word of this and are convinced Auburn is the most diabolical, cheatinest, evil program under the sun, worse than BP and Enron and Monsanto and and the Democratic National Committee and the Republican National Committee and the fascists and the socialists -- if you're in that camp, just give up on trying to form thoughts. Your mind is made; your opinion is irrational. You're embarrassing yourself.

Also, if you are 100 percent convinced Auburn is just squeaky clean and morally upstanding and #GodThing, and it's that other program across the state, those dastardly Updykes who just cheat and cheat and cheat and get away with it because the NCAA just loves Saban, you may as well give up, too. You're just as big of an embarrassment as the other camp, and honestly, you piss me off just as much and sometimes more. Lighten up. The reason everyone is "out to get" Auburn is because of the way you react. I get that you're just defending your university, but your irrational attitude and blind allegiance is what drives pageviews and tweets and Facebook likes and all the other chatter.

Also also, if you're just a troll on either side, well, I appreciate some good trolling, but it can get to a point when you're just being an asshole. It would behoove you to know where that line is and try to avoid stepping over it.

So, if you're still reading this, I assume you haven't been deeply offended or cursed my name at the top of your lungs. And if that's the case, I'll also assume you are an open-minded critical thinker, and that you're genuinely interested in my take on all of this. OK.

To start, I'll say that I don't believe Auburn is a totally clean program. I think Auburn has boosters and some boosters tend to be dirty, and therefore, Auburn is dirty at least to some degree. And here's the thing: So is almost everyone else. Alabama? Yes. Georgia? Yes. LSU? Yes. Anyone that's a fan of a clean program is either in the slim minority or lying to themselves.

With that being said, Roberts' report appears to be a picture carefully painted by someone telling the exact story she wanted. And based on Auburn's response to Assael's piece, his story just looks like shitty, inaccurate reporting from a writer who will believe anything, no matter the source's credibility. Hey, this wouldn't be the first time an ESPN employee has fit that description.

Here's the thing about Roberts' story, and everyone already knows this: The vast majority of the content is coming from an individual who is about to go on trial for armed robbery charges. Mike McNeil doesn't want to go to jail, and his family doesn't want him to go to jail, and if it were me facing 21 years, I'd be trying to get my sad-sack victim story to as big of an audience as possible. Aside from McNeil, his family and his former attorney, Roberts quotes Darvin Adams, Daren Bates, Mike Blanc, Antoine Carter and Neiko Thorpe. Once Roberts' story broke, Bates, Blanc, Carter and Thorpe all came out and said they were taken out of context or misquoted and insinuated that Roberts misled them in interviews.

At this point, it's basically the word of McNeil, the man facing felony charges, and Roberts, the reporter who is founder and CEO for her own "revolutionary digital media network" and apparently has no editorial oversight, against the word of players and a university that received a two-fisted cavity search from the NCAA and every media outlet in the country two years ago. If you believe Roberts' story, you believe she was able to uncover something Charles Robinson, the investigative reporter at Yahoo whose work includes breaking open scandals at Miami and Ohio State, couldn't dig up.

If Roberts really wanted to end the swirling speculation surrounding the quotes of of Bates, Blanc, Carter and Thorpe, she'd just release her tapes of the interviews. She says she has them; why not release them and erase any doubt? The longer she keeps those under wraps, the more her credibility will dissipate.

As for Assael's story, his sources are just as dubious, and Auburn pretty much shut him down with its response. Assael quotes Dakota Mosley, another former player charged with armed robbery, and his attorney, in addition to Kimberly Harkness, the mother of Shaun Kitchens, another former player who is also -- you guessed it! -- facing armed robbery charges. The story alleges 12 Auburn players failed drug tests for synthetic marijuana in 2011 and that Auburn withheld those results as part of some sort of cover-up. In an open letter released Thursday, Auburn athletic director Jay Jacobs presented his point-by-point case denying Assael's report:

- Auburn Athletics began testing for synthetic marijuana three days after our testing company made a test available. A test became available on Jan. 24, 2011, and Auburn added the test to its panel on Jan. 27, 2011.

- Since our drug testing policy was amended to include synthetic marijuana as a banned substance, there have been three positive tests for the drug out of more than 2,500 drug tests administered. Those three individuals are no longer on Auburn Athletics rosters.

- As soon as our Director of Sports Medicine was aware that synthetic marijuana was a drug readily available in convenience stores in the fall of 2010, Auburn Athletics contacted our drug testing company to inquire about whether they had a test for synthetic marijuana and when one would be made available. They did not have a test at the time.

- At the same time, our Director of Sports Medicine began education efforts aimed at our coaches and student-athletes.

- Auburn Athletics provided urine samples to the drug testing company to assist them in their efforts to develop a test.

- The Director of Sports Medicine and former Coach Gene Chizik both addressed the football team about the dangers of synthetic marijuana at multiple team meetings in the Fall of 2010, before a test was available. A story about the drug was placed on the locker of every football player on the team.

- Within the first few months of testing, 3 percent of our student-athletes tested positive for synthetic marijuana.
Phone records show that more than 50 phone calls were made to the parents of two former student-athletes who were interviewed by ESPN.

- The father of one of the student-athletes who was apparently interviewed by ESPN was sent a letter informing him that his son had failed a drug test for regular marijuana two months before the robbery.

- The Auburn Drug Testing/Drug Education Advisory Committee recommended to the Committee on Intercollegiate Athletics that synthetic marijuana be added to the Auburn Athletics drug testing policy on March 14, 2011. The policy change was adopted that day.

- Penalties for the use of synthetic marijuana were put into place for the next academic year beginning in August of 2011. Since it became a banned substance under the drug testing policy, only three student-athletes have tested positive for synthetic marijuana out of more than 2,500 tests administered.

Of course, you can choose to believe Jacobs or not, but as with Roberts' story, if you choose to believe Assael's report, you're ignoring the fact that Auburn has already faced incredible scrutiny. Also, you're saying Assael is a better investigative reporter than Robinson. And if you believe that, I look forward to your next post at the Capstone Report.

So yeah, I think there's dirt under Auburn's fingernails, but I doubt this is it. Barners: Go ahead and call me an undercover Updyke and disown me. Bammers: Go ahead and call me a butthurt Boog with my head in the sand. I really don't care. I'm just sick of being embarrassed by both sides of this rivalry, and I'd like to see a little more rational discussion when it comes to stuff like this. Alas, I know that's asking for too much. Oh well.

If Auburn fans just saw the allegations and laughed them off, I really believe we wouldn't have to deal with this garbage so often. Defending the school is one thing, and some are doing just that -- I salute you, by the way -- but too many are going completely overboard.

Whatever comes of these stories, I'm going to keep on loving Auburn, and I'll still believe there's a dirty side to college athletics -- even when it comes to my Tigers. And yes, I'll keep on hating Alabama athletics while knowing that a sports rivalry shouldn't prevent me from being friends with some folks on the other side.

I know I'm not alone in my ideals here, but when sensational reports break, it sure seems like there aren't many of us.

Obviously, this post consists of my personal opinions and might not reflect the views of other College and Magnolia writers.

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