Auburn’s national championship football team being shut out at the ESPYs Wednesday night was just the latest sign. The relentless drumbeat of the past eight months has taken a toll on public perception of Auburn’s football program.
Senior Editor Phillip Marshall
In fact, you could make the case that Auburn is the most despised college football team in the country. If you took a poll of college football fans nationwide, you’d probably find a large majority of them believe Auburn is guilty of all manner of transgressions.
That Auburn stands accused of nothing by the NCAA is dismissed out of hand. With the help of innuendo and non-stories like the one written Wednesday by Pete Thamel of the New York Times, Auburn has been tried and convicted in the court of public opinion.
As best I can tell, no one in the national media has at any time said anything other than Auburn remains “under investigation” by the NCAA. Yet, third-hand information supposedly confirming that is breaking news in the New York Times?
That’s the way things happen these days. Throw enough mud, cover up the Internet with conspiracy theories, and those theories become widely accepted as fact. It’s interesting that schools that have been tried and convicted by the NCAA don’t seem to be viewed nearly as darkly as does Auburn.
It was clear for years that USC’s program had run off the rails under Pete Carroll. But Carroll went out of his way to befriend national sports writers. They loved him and they still do. He’s a really charming and enjoyable guy to be around, but should that matter? The criticism of disgraced Ohio State coach Jim Tressel has been muted at most. Where was the fierce criticism of Reggie Bush? Of Tyrelle Pryor?
From the moment the story broke that the NCAA was investigating allegations that Cam Newton’s father had sought money from Mississippi State, Cam became the most scrutinized, criticized and vilified college football player in my experience. That kept going right up until he was the No. 1 player picked in the NFL draft. And it really hasn’t ended yet. SEC athletic directors made the indefensible decision to deny him SEC Male Athlete of the Year Award in favor of a tennis player.
What did he do wrong? The NCAA president says nothing. Doesn’t matter.
Auburn coach Gene Chizik has made it pretty clear that his relationship with the media – national and local – will be professional only. You can question the wisdom of that, but it’s the way he is and he isn’t going to change. Lots of people don’t like his focus on his faith.
In an even more indefensible vote, SEC coaches chose South Carolina’s Steve Spurrier as Coach of the Year in 2010. Spurrier and South Carolina went 9-5 and were crushed 56-17 by Chizik and Auburn in the SEC Championship Game. Coach of the Year?
The real question is what Auburn should do. Talking won’t do any good. Anything Chizik or athletics director Jay Jacobs say will only be turned against them.
So what to do? I say they should revel in it. Embrace it. Use it to their advantage.
There a few comparisons between Auburn and the Miami teams of the 1980s and 1990s. But there is at least one. Those Miami teams were widely despised. What did they do? They thrived on their outlaw image. It drove them to play harder, win bigger. And they are remembered today a lot more fondly than they were viewed then.
No one can say for certain how all this will end. I certainly can't. Chizik and Jacobs have been steadfast in their insistence that Auburn does the right way and the honest way. So far, there has been no evidence to dispute that.
Everyone likes to be liked. No one wants to have his integrity questioned. But in the end, the truth is what matters.