One of the best “big picture” analyses you will read regarding the Cam Newton situation at Auburn, and how it plays into the much larger investigation into political corruption, bank fraud and money laundering. It’s a very long piece, but worth the extra cup of coffee or bag of popcorn you’ll need to read the whole thing.
It comes from Dan Wismar at TheClevelandFan.com, a site dedicated to all things athletic in Cleveland, Ohio. Wismar is no “bammer.” He’s an Ohio State Buckeye fan, through and through.
There are potentially troublesome athletic boosters insinuating themselves into nearly every major college football and basketball program in the country, but you could say Bobby Lowder redefines the position. As a member of the Auburn Board of Trustees for 27 years, and the sitting chairman of the university Finance Committee, Lowder has essentially run Auburn athletics as his private preserve for decades.
Auburn football coaches, athletic directors...even university presidents, serve at his pleasure. A 1964 graduate of the school, Lowder and his parents have donated as much as $20 million to Auburn over the years, and several campus buildings bear their name. As a self-made CEO of a major regional bank with over $25 billion in assets, Lowder's passion for his work was exceeded only by his passion for Auburn football. He has often been called the most powerful man in the State of Alabama.
One sports web site titled an article on Lowder, "What if a Booster Ran an SEC School's Budget?" Exactly. What could go wrong? At this point, the question is: What has gone wrong? Few would argue today that Lowder's influence on Auburn athletics, while fanatically well-intended, has been a malign and destructive one more than it has served the university's interests.
Lowder has by many accounts presided over a longstanding system of buying and paying Auburn football players through a network of surrogates including assistant coaches and other boosters. This is hardly just a matter of unsupported rumor, or of bad faith accusations by Auburn's rivals (though there is plenty of the latter going on). The school has a track record of NCAA violations of this sort ever since Pat Dye Jr. was forced out as Athletic Director in 1991, and a year later as head coach, based on NCAA findings that Auburn was paying players.
And that doesn't even count 1957, when Auburn went undefeated, but was not allowed to play in a bowl game owing to...you guessed it...previous recruiting violations. Since Bobby Lowder was 13 at the time, I guess we can't hang that one on him.
From Dye to Bowden and then to Tommy Tuberville, Lowder always had his eye on his next coach. In 2008, after Tuberville had lost five of six SEC games down the stretch, Lowder dispatched his interim President, his AD Housel, and a couple of Board members in the Colonial BancCorp corporate jet to Louisville to meet secretly with then-Louisville coach Bobby Petrino, and offer him the Auburn job. The plane was identified, and word of the meeting leaked. The Iron Bowl with Alabama had yet to be played, and Lowder had undermined his coach in an incident that came to be called "Jetgate".
Petrino wisely turned Auburn down, but Tuberville was justifiably angry, and Lowder was justifiably criticized for his ham-handedness. It wasn't long though, before Tuberville was out, and Lowder was back searching for a coach he could control.