AUBURN, Ala. — The email awaited in my inbox before I awoke Wednesday. It was from Clinton Durst, former Auburn punter.
He was ticked and wanted to talk.
Word had spread the night before that four former Tigers -- Stanley McClover, Troy Reddick, Chaz Ramsey and Raven Gray -- were going to make claims on an HBO special that they received money, during the recruiting process and their time on the Plains.
Durst, apparently not wanting to wait for a sportswriter to get out of bed, took matters into his own hands, posting on my blog a message in all caps.
Never miss a local story.
The gist? After some editing: Those ex-players are full of well, it.
“Their career didn’t go the way they wanted it to,” Durst said later. “They wanted some revenge.”
His thoughts echoed the sentiment of plenty of former Tigers who came to their school’s defense, all eager to poke holes in the stories of their four former teammates. They have legitimate questions, which the NCAA undoubtedly will ask if an investigation is going to gain any traction.
Most pressing is why would McClover and Reddick, fairly good players in their time, get paid but not stars such as Ronnie Brown, Carnell Williams, Carlos Rogers, Jason Campbell or Quentin Groves?
Left tackle Lee Ziemba made a salient point about Ramsey, a fellow 2007 recruit whose career was cut short by a back injury: He was higher-ranked recruit than Ramsey, started for three years longer in his career, made All-SEC and won a national championship, yet he said he didn’t receive a dime. Why the discrepancy?
“I don’t want to be rude or degrading, but these are guys who meant nothing to the team,” Durst said.
As Auburn was quick to point out (and HBO acknowledged), there is no proof, only the testimonials of the four players. There is no documentation through receipts, emails or letters to serve as a smoking gun, not that it matters much in the arena of public opinion.
Reddick alleges a coach gave him envelopes of money, yet doesn’t identify who. McClover said he asked for money during the recruiting process and received it in a bookbag, but he didn’t say whom he asked or who delivered it.
One of the most prevalent claims -- that players received “money handshakes” containing hundreds of dollars from boosters during recruiting or from people outside the stadium after games -- refers only to nebulous, unidentifiable figures who quickly recede out of sight and mind.
How can you prove that did or did not happen?
And why these four? As many have pointed out, they have a bone to pick with Auburn.
McClover left a year early against the coaches’ advice and washed out of the NFL. Reddick was turned down for a graduate assistant job at Auburn last year. Ramsey unsuccessfully sued the school for allegedly mismanaging his back injury. And Gray’s career ended at Auburn before it began.
That’s not to say they’re lying. Disgruntled players have more motivation to talk in cases such as this, just as a fired employee is more willing to badmouth a former employer.
And that’s not to say under-the-table payments don’t take place in college football. Only the naive would believe money doesn’t exchange hands in the shadows of supposed amateur athletics.
In fact, I don’t think the HBO special was meant to convict Auburn of anything but rather take a provocative look at a broken NCAA system. The Tigers, after enduring the Cam Newton scandal and winning the national championship, were an easy target, however, one of controversy and success.
Auburn must now deal with the consequences. With proof or additional testimonies, it could grow into something serious. Without that, it probably will fizzle to nothing.
Plenty of former Auburn players have raised legitimate questions about the pay-for-play claims. It’s up to the NCAA to ask them.