Monday, April 8, 2013

Auburn can’t get its stories straight on the “spice” scandal

JailAubieAuburn University reacted swiftly and loudly to a detailed and scathing ESPN Magazine article exposing a drug problem that was sweeping through the Tiger football team during 2010 and 2011. The report—detailing a six month investigation into illicit drug use down on the plains—came on the heels of an equally damning story from a former SI and New York Times reporter. But in the process of trying to set the record straight, it seems that La Familia can’t even get its story straight.

How can you tell when someone is being untruthful? One surefire sign is that the story changes every time it’s told.

Here’s a quote from the ESPN story:

What Harkness had no way of knowing was that while NCAA investigators pored through Auburn emails and phone logs in the Newton case, the highest-ranking members of the athletic department made a specific choice not to talk about Spice. Jacobs, a folksy, confident executive who played offensive tackle for the Tigers in the early '80s, told The Mag in an interview this past February that the decision not to inform athletes' parents about their positive tests was a matter of legal necessity because the drug had not yet been added to the school's banned substances list.

Based on documents obtained by The Mag, Auburn's 2010 drug policy allows for the banning of drugs also on the NCAA's banned substances list, including a category called street drugs. While the NCAA's list defines marijuana as a street drug (no specific mention of synthetic marijuana), a clause in the Auburn policy would've allowed it to expand the definition to include "related compounds." Yet the school's legal staff concluded that Spice was not a related compound of regular marijuana. "In 2010 and early 2011, using synthetic marijuana was not necessarily a transgression of our policy," says C. Randall Clark, the head of the university senate's drug testing committee.

In other words, the school deemed that the athletic department couldn't discipline students caught using Spice in the same manner as those caught using regular marijuana or cocaine. That meant no parental notification, no loss of playing time and no mandatory counseling. "There wasn't anything we could do except educate our athletes," Jacobs says.

Not so fast, says a report from, the Rivals’ site headed up by former Montgomery Advertiser reporter Jay G. Tate. In their attempt to show that Auburn was on top of the problem early on, they tell us that parents were indeed notified during the relevant time frame:

Though players who tested positive during the 2010 season didn't face sanctions since the substance wasn't yet banned, spoke with the parent of a former player who said he was informed by the school of his son's positive test. reported Thursday night that the parents of former players Dakota Mosley and Shaun Kitchens claim they weren't informed of their sons' positive tests.

ESPN The Magazine reported Thursday that "not one parent was notified, and no discipline was meted out in the eight-month gap between the first test in January 2011, and August 2011, when Auburn's drug policy was officially amended to include synthetic marijuana."

One parent of an Auburn player that tested positive for "spice" during that time period disagrees.

"It's just false and inaccurate. As a parent, I was notified, so that bumps the fact that no parents were notified," said one parent that wishes to remain anonymous. "I haven't seen the ESPN story, but if they said the parents weren't notified, that's not true. I was called and I know two other parents that were notified, too.

"I know for sure two, from me seeing them down there. If they notified me and two other parents, if there was anyone else, I'm sure they were told. I don't understand this."

The parent says he was notified of the failed drug test between the end of spring practice and June of 2011. That's within the time period that ESPN claims no parents were notified.

In an open letter posted on Auburn’s official athletics website, AD Jay Jacobs also disputes ESPN’s claim, saying that “phone records show that more than 50 phone calls were made to the parents of two former student-athletes who were interviewed by ESPN.”

Fifty phone calls to the parents of two players means about 25 each per parent. That’s a lot of phone calls to not very many people. They had guys failing drug tests about 25 times? Dakota Mosley said he only failed seven times.

Jacobs’ story jibes perfectly with Tate’s story, but the school’s own documents tell a different story altogether.

Auburn Bureau writer Joel Erickson explains that documents he obtained from the school under an open records request support the ESPN allegation that parents weren’t notified.

Auburn's athletic administration and coaching staff could not have legally informed parents about failed tests for synthetic marijuana before the drug was banned, according to documents obtained by through an open records search.

Auburn informed the student-athletes of each positive test for synthetic marijuana (sometimes called spice), offered counseling to each of the athletes involved and told athletes that the substance would likely be on the school's banned list in the future, said Cassie Arner, Auburn's assistant director for public relations.

Isn’t that what ESPN said? Why yes, I believe it is.

The headline for the story linked and quoted above suggests that the documents support Jacobs’ and the versions. But the story itself supports the ESPN report—which said that the legal department’s ruling prevented disclosure of positive test results because the substance was legal and not banned by the NCAA.

Either Jacobs doesn’t know the facts as shown by the school’s records, or he’s not being truthful. Or, the parents interviewed by Tate et all at were being untruthful. OR, is being untruthful.

Is your head spinning fast enough yet?

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