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Thursday, Mar. 31, 2011

Auburn football: Officials pledge to probe pay-for-play claims

Chizik calls accusations of boosters paying players ‘pathetic … pure garbage’

- abitter@ledger-enquirer.com
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AUBURN, Ala. -- A day after it was revealed that four former Auburn football players claimed they were paid during their college careers, school administrators vowed that the matter will be fully investigated, while coach Gene Chizik and a legion of former players came to the program’s defense.

Auburn was the focal point of an episode of “Real Sports with Bryant Gumbel” that aired Wednesday night. During one segment, former players Stanley McClover, Troy Reddick, Chaz Ramsey and Raven Gray said they received money from boosters, and in some cases coaches, during the course of their careers.

“While HBO confirmed to us they have no proof that any of these claims are true, we contacted both the NCAA and Southeastern Conference as soon as these allegations surfaced,” Auburn athletics director Jay Jacobs said, a sentiment echoed in a statement by school president Jay Gogue. “We have engaged outside counsel to investigate this matter and will spare no resources to find the truth.”

Chizik expressed amazement that HBO did not air comments from former Tigers who said they never received any money. He said he was not contacted for the report.

“It saddens me that somebody’s going to air a show with one side being known,” Chizik said. “It’s pathetic, and I think it’s pure garbage.”

Chizik, who was defensive coordinator for Auburn from 2002-04, said he wasn’t aware of players receiving money.

“I have absolutely no knowledge of any of that,” he said. “And I don’t have my head in the sand.”

The SEC released a statement saying it is aware of the allegations made in the HBO special and has communicated with the enforcement staffs at both Auburn and another of the conference’s schools mentioned in the report, LSU.

“The involved institutions and the NCAA staff will pursue the allegations in a timely manner,” the statement read.

On the HBO special, which dealt with the state of big-time college athletics, McClover, Reddick, Ramsey and Gray said they received money during their careers from various sources.

McClover, a defensive end from 2003-05, said he received an unspecified amount of money in a bookbag to sign with the Tigers, although HBO reporter Andrea Kremer said “there is no documentation, receipts, letters or emails proving he got the money.”

Reddick, an offensive lineman from 2002-05, said he received as many as 10 envelopes containing $500 during his last two years at the school.

Ramsey, an offensive lineman from 2007, said he received cash in “money handshakes” from boosters after games, $300 to $400 a contest.

Gray, a junior college defensive end who signed in 2008, said he received from $2,500 to $3,000 from boosters during the recruiting process.

All four played under former coach Tommy Tuberville, who had no comment, and had less-than-amicable departures from Auburn.

McClover left a year early and washed out of the NFL after four seasons. He is unemployed, according to the special, and runs a nonprofit organization where he mentors children. Reddick, according to AuburnSports.com, was turned down for a graduate assistant job with the Tigers last year.

Ramsey sued the school for mismanaging a back injury that cut short his career -- a lawsuit was recently thrown out of court. And Gray, who had lingering knee issues, transferred before ever playing a game.

Former Auburn players who rushed to the defense of their school Wednesday cited those biases.

Left tackle Lee Ziemba, who was an All-SEC selection as a senior last season, said the claims in the HBO special are ridiculous.

“I started 52 games, walked out the same locker room doors after games, was recruited by the same men, met the same people and I never saw a dime,” he said. “The only thing I’m going to say is the two players I played with that were on this thing (Ramsey and Gray) had bad divorces from the university. It definitely didn’t end the way it was expected to end.”

Quentin Groves, an All-SEC defensive end from 2004-07 who now plays for the Oakland Raiders, went on WJOX radio and questioned why these players were paid yet first-round NFL picks like Ronnie Brown, Carnell Williams, Carlos Rogers and Jason Campbell weren’t.

“Why would I pay you guys?” Groves said hypothetically. “At best these guys were mediocre. … They made bad choices in their life. And now they’re saying it’s either Auburn’s fault or the coaches’ fault that they made those choices.”

What actions the NCAA takes from here are unclear. Dr. David Ridpath, an expert in NCAA matters as an assistant professor in Sports Administration at Ohio University and a former compliance official at Marshall, said he expects the governing body to ask questions -- both to the players in the HBO special and at Auburn.

“It’s kind of a he said, she said,” Ridpath said. “The NCAA operates on the scenario not beyond a reasonable doubt, though. It’s kind of like civil (suit). It’s what’s more likely than not.

“I think anyone would say it’s probably more likely than not that some money exchanged some hands somewhere,” he added. “But being able to prove that and actually sanction someone would be very, very tough.”

Although the claims by McClover and Reddick fall outside of the NCAA’s four-year statute of limitations, there are exceptions that would allow college football’s governing body to include them in an investigation.

But Ridpath is skeptical of how much will emerge other than just the players’ testimonies.

“I don’t think that the investigation is going to be as diligent as one might expect,” Ridpath said. “Because believe me, my experience with NCAA investigators are they tend to investigate much harder in some things.

“And in something like this, if I had a gut feeling, they’ll come in and look at it, they probably won’t see a direct connection anywhere and just say these facts are unsubstantiated and they’ll move on.

“Honestly, I don’t think we’ll hear a whole heck of a lot about it until the next (national) scandal, which is probably going to happen tomorrow.”

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