The question has been put to me numerous times in the last three days. Why Auburn? The truthful answer is I don’t know.
I don’t know why Auburn is such a target. But I did know what to expect after Selena Roberts did a disservice to herself and her profession with one of the worst hatchet jobs I have seen in all my years in this business. ESPN followed with a long story about Auburn players and synthetic marijuana that still has me scratching my head.
And what I expected to happen is what has happened.
ESPN paid little attention to Auburn’s response, which basically obliterated the story. Roberts responded defensively to anyone who questioned her.
And the usual suspects piled on. Even Pulitzer Prize winner Sara Ganim, who broke the Jerry Sandusky story wide open at Penn State and now work as for CNN, offered a hand-wringing tweet about a “black eye” for college athletics. A national radio talk show host derided the Auburn campus as one of the least attractive in the SEC. Yes, things got that silly.
Synthetic marijuana was legal and available at convenience stores? Auburn was one of the first in the SEC to test for synthetic marijuana? Auburn has one of the tougher drug testing programs in college athletics? The players “quoted” by Roberts rose up immediately in protest? Who cares? Why let facts like that get in the way of a good tale?
Much of what was said in both stories is ridiculously easy to disprove. But you can forget about any kind of fair shake from ESPN. It plans to make the story a TV show, so it will do what it does. It will do all it can to drive ratings.
Some national outlets have come to Auburn’s defense and have pointed to the massive holes in both stories. But they have been largely overlooked and drowned out. Good for them for trying to be fair.
Auburn athletics director Jay Jacobs has had his say. Former head coach Gene Chizik has had his say. Parents of players have disputed both reports. To those who want to believe differently, it doesn’t matter. Three players await trial on armed robbery charges stemming from the well-documented incident of March 2011. They and their families, understandably, are doing all they can to mitigate their situations. The common thread: It was Auburn’s fault.
Auburn has been given a full exam by the NCAA three times since November of 2010. It has come out clean every time. Maybe that’s happened before, but I’m not aware of it. Does anyone really believe Auburn is so good it can not only trick the NCAA time and time again, but commit major violations right under the NCAA’s nose? Really?
Though Auburn stands accused of nothing illegal by anyone that matters, its reputation has taken a terrible and hit. It’s sad. No one expects college football fans to look beyond the headlines. A large number of those folks are convinced Auburn is dirty, and nothing Jacobs or anyone else can say or do is going to change that. You’d like to think professional news people would be determined to look beyond the headlines. Some are. Many aren’t.
So what can Auburn and Auburn people do now? My suggestion: Speak the truth and be secure in the truth. What is the truth?
* Auburn’s football program has not been sanctioned by the NCAA in 21 years. In that same period, 10 SEC teams have been.
* The NCAA has looked hard at Auburn three times since 2010. Auburn has emerged clean every time.
* Auburn has had more perfect records in the last 10 seasons than any team in the SEC.
* Auburn has had more perfect records in the last 20 seasons than any team in the SEC.
* Despite being beaten the past two seasons, Auburn has won seven of its last 11 against Alabama.
* Auburn has won six SEC championships in the past 30 years, one less than Florida, the same as LSU and one more than Alabama.
None of that means Auburn football is today where Auburn people want it to be.
There is no question that Alabama is the dominant program in the SEC. With three national championships in four seasons, that can’t be argued. And Alabama, historically, is the strongest program in the SEC. That’s makes Auburn’s historic success even more impressive.
The notion that Auburn somehow doesn’t belong, that it is an interloper among the top programs in the SEC and in college football is simply not supported by facts or by history.