AUBURN, Ala. — Auburn is once again on the defensive amid allegations of wrongdoing going back to its 2010 national championship season.
Two reports surfaced this week accusing the athletic department of wide-ranging misdeeds ranging from covering up widespread use of synthetic marijuana among football players to grade-changing and illicit payments, allegations the school strongly denies.
Auburn Athletic Director Jay Jacobs and other officials have disputed the findings in both reports, which painted a bleak picture of a department and football program that weathered an NCAA investigation in the recruiting of Cam Newton through much of the title run.
Jacobs dismissed allegations made by former players and their parents in an ESPN report Thursday that Auburn covered up widespread use of synthetic marijuana as “baseless and inaccurate.” Former football coach Gene Chizik said an earlier report on Roopstigo.com by former New York Times and Sports Illustrated writer Selena Roberts was “short on facts and logic.”
Regardless, the reports again cast a negative light on a season that produced Auburn’s first national championship in 53 years and a Heisman Trophy winner and No. 1 overall NFL draft pick in Newton.
Chizik compared the latest reports to the Newton investigation in a statement Thursday in response to Roberts’ story. The NCAA ultimately said it found no evidence of wrongdoing by Auburn or Newton in an investigation into pay-for-play allegations.
“The NCAA focused intently on widespread accusations about Auburn players being paid and other alleged recruiting violations,” Chizik said. “The NCAA conducted 80 interviews. In October 2011, the NCAA rejected ‘rampant public speculation online and in the media.’
“Unfortunately, the recent story published by Selena Roberts is more of the same. It once again portrays Auburn University, current and former coaches, professors, fans, supporters and community officials in a false light. Unfortunately, Ms. Roberts’ story is long on accusation and inference, but short on facts and logic.”
Chizik’s agent, Russ Campbell, said Friday that the former Tigers coach had no comment on the ESPN report.
Jacobs declined comment Friday on the reports.
“I feel like the statement addressed everything,” he told The Associated Press outside the athletic complex. “That’s all I want to say at this time.”
In the meantime, Auburn maintained that the reports were misleading or inaccurate.
Both reports relied heavily on four players who have been charged with robbery, or their families.
The armed robbery trial of former defensive back Mike McNeil is set to begin Monday. Ex-teammate Antonio Goodwin received a 15-year sentence in June in the case, while Shaun Kitchens and Dakota Mosley are awaiting trial.
Cassie Arner, an assistant athletic director, confirmed Friday that 12 football players and six other athletes tested positive for synthetic marijuana — out of 799 tests administered — from Jan. 27 through July in 2011.
The school began testing for synthetic marijuana three days after the testing firm used, Aegis Labs, came up with a test that detected the drug, sometimes referred to as spice, Jacobs said. The drug was legally sold in stores in Alabama in 2010.
The athletic director said since synthetic marijuana was added to the school’s drug testing policy as a banned substance that August, three athletes out of 2,500-plus tested have come up positive for the drug.
Arner would not identify which sports the three competed in but said they are no longer on an Auburn roster. She also said the failed tests all came that August.
The ESPN report quoted Kitchens’ mother, Kimberly Harkness, as saying Auburn did not inform her that her son had tested positive for the drug and that she felt “betrayed.” She cited a Feb. 15 phone conversation with assistant coach Trooper Taylor.
Kitchens didn’t test positive for synthetic marijuana until the following day, Arner said. She also said that Auburn officials could not inform athletes’ parents of the results until they signed waivers after synthetic marijuana was included in the policy.
The person answering the phone at the number listed on phone logs between Harkness and Auburn coaches, including Chizik, said Harkness did not live there.
Mosley, a freshman tight end on the 2010 team, told ESPN that he failed seven straight weekly tests for the drug and was only suspended — for three months — after testing positive for marijuana.
Arner said Mosley’s first positive marijuana test came Dec. 21, 2010. Dakota Mosley’s father, Harrison, and attorney Davis Whittelsey did not immediately return messages left by the AP on Friday.
In the initial report, on Roopstigo.com, McNeil said he was paid some $400 by then-assistant Will Muschamp after a practice. Muschamp denied making the payment through a spokesman at Florida, where he’s head coach.
McNeil also told the website that a failing computer science grade, where he had excessive absences, was changed before the 2010 season. He brought the professor a medical excuse explaining his absences from the class, Arner said.
The report also said players heard that star running back Mike Dyer was ineligible for the BCS championship game, where he was the MVP. Dyer had passed 15 credit hours in the fall semester and “was never in any kind of jeopardy of being ineligible,” Arner said.
Receiver Darvin Adams also said he was offered money to stay for his senior season. Instead, he entered the NFL draft; Adams wasn’t selected.
Jacobs has said Auburn was investigating the claims, but didn’t think they were true.