Thursday, November 22, 2012

Auburn and the NCAA: Have we learned anything new?

JailAubie By now, everyone has seen the stories from Yahoo, and ESPN regarding an ongoing NCAA investigation into Auburn University’s football program. The stories all cite sources who say that the NCAA is looking into—among other things—the recruitment of Memphis standout Jovon Robinson. Have we learned anything new? Do we know anything now that we didn’t know before Pat Forde’s story dropped yesterday afternoon?

Here’s what he wrote:

According to multiple sources, NCAA investigators have spent weeks looking into potential improprieties involving Auburn recruits, players, coaches, representatives of the school's athletic interests and third parties. Assistant coaches Trooper Taylor and Curtis Luper have been scrutinized by the NCAA, sources said. Taylor is the assistant head coach and wide receivers coach, while Luper coaches running backs and is the recruiting coordinator.

Both Taylor and Luper were taken off the road recruiting several weeks ago amid the NCAA probe, sources said. Taylor was a finalist this season for national Assistant Coach of the Year honors from the American Football Coaches Association.

The only real surprising news here is that an assistant coach on a team that’s 3-8 was a finalist for the AFCA Assistant COY. The rest isn’t news to anyone who’s been following this story. Possible recruiting irregularities and possible academic fraud were first reported by the Memphis Commercial Appeal in August.

It was also widely known in October that the two assistants were grounded from off-campus recruiting, with several recruiting websites reporting the situation. Although this information never made it into print or on-line mainstream media, it was talked about extensively on talk radio and internet message boards. If you followed college football in the south, you knew this was out there.

From ESPN’s version of the story:

Lynch, 62, who said she retired as a counselor at Wooddale High School in May to care for her ailing husband and mother, wouldn't specifically identify the teacher who she says instructed her to change Robinson's academic transcript.

But when Lynch was asked whether Wooddale physical education teacher Rhonda Wilkinson instructed her to change Robinson's grades, Lynch smiled and told a reporter, "No comment." Later, when Lynch was asked why she changed Robinson's grades, she said: "You already said her name. Go talk to her."

Robinson's recruitment has been under scrutiny since late August, when Wooddale guidance counselor Valerie Starks-Sykes admitted making changes to Robinson's transcripts and told Memphis City Schools officials that she was "certain someone had asked her to make the changes but was reluctant to name anyone who may have been involved," according to an email obtained by the Memphis Commercial-Appeal.

Again, a lot of stuff we knew back in August from the MCA and others who were covering the story. What we didn’t know—but suspected—was that someone who could easily be defined as a “representative of the school’s athletic interests” (aka, a “booster”) was likely involved with the falsified high school transcript. So while there’s some media confirmation of the dot-connecting many have already done, this story really isn’t any farther along than it was weeks ago.

What is significant is that mainstream national media organizations are confirming what regional and local organizations have already covered. As Miami, Ohio State and USC have painfully learned, having Yahoo! Sports’ team of investigative journalists snooping around your program is never a good thing.

That’s not news, either. But we do know for a fact that there’s certainly some fire to the smoke and now that the national media is covering the blaze, others will start turning over rocks. Sports Illustrated is likely to have a gander. The New York Times may want to talk to some folks in Memphis and Auburn. Fox’s Pete Thamel and Thayer Evans are probably on it. That in turn intensifies the pressure on the local and regional media outlets, who are closer to the story and have access that national types probably don’t. It’s not news, but it’s significant nonetheless.

There has been some conspiracy theorizing speculation that the stories dropping just days before the Iron Bowl is part of an orchestrated effort to inflict maximum harm on Auburn. That’s crazy talk. It implies that these competitive media outlets sat on a big scandal story for several weeks, dropping it only when everyone would be paying attention to the biggest game in the state. It implies that some sinister force controls the media and lets them know when to make things go BOOM. The idea that Yahoo!, ESPN and are mere puppets for the dreaded Red Elephant Club plays well in the 334 area code, but the rest of the college sports worlds points and laughs.

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