BY JOHN ZENOR
MONTGOMERY, Ala. —
Former Auburn coach Gene Chizik lashed out at media reports accusing the football program of flouting the NCAA rules and called it "the most scrutinized" and sometimes vilified program in college football.
Chizik spoke Monday evening, hours after athletic director Jay Jacobs said an internal review into allegations by former players of academic fraud before the 2010 BCS championship game found no evidence of wrongdoing. The coach, who was fired after a 3-9 season, said he ran a clean program and decried reports going back to Cam Newton's Heisman Trophy-winning season three years ago.
"The notion that we would pay a player in any shape or form to come to Auburn or stay at Auburn is absurd," Chizik said in a 35-minute interview with writers who cover the team.
The more recent accusations surfaced in separate reports. ESPN The Magazine reported that there was widespread synthetic marijuana use among football players from the national title team and former New York Times and Sports Illustrated reporter Selena Roberts raised allegations from former players of grade changes and payments or offers of money.
Jacobs posted in a letter to fans on the school's Web site the results of a review by his department and the university's Internal Auditing department. Auburn worked with the NCAA in investigating the academic fraud, said Jack Smith, the athletic department's director of strategic communications.
Jacobs had disputed Roberts' report in an earlier statement but said Auburn would review the claims. This time, he and Chizik fired back.
"I'm tired of these attacks on Auburn," Jacobs said, adding that the football program hadn't been found guilty of a major violation in 20 years.
The athletic director made a point-by-point rebuttal to a number of charges made by former players, including defensive back Mike McNeil, who pleaded guilty to first-degree robbery on April 8.
Roberts cited three players who said the team was informed that as many as nine were ineligible for the BCS championship game against Oregon in January 2011, including tailback Mike Dyer.
Jacobs said that six players were academically ineligible and none made the trip to Arizona.
McNeil had alleged that he had a failing grade changed to a 'C' to make him eligible for the title game. Jacobs said the internal review found that all university policies for grade changes were followed and that McNeil provided a medical excuse for absences.
He said Dyer passed nine hours during the 2010 summer semester and 15 hours during the fall — nine more than are required by the NCAA — and ended with a 2.8 grade-point average.
"There is no evidence academic fraud occurred," Jacobs said.
Former Auburn receiver Darvin Adams also said in the report that he was offered money to stay for his senior season, which he skipped to enter the NFL draft. Adams denied the allegation in a statement released through Chizik's agent.
Chizik said Auburn never paid Newton, whose father attempted to solicit money during Mississippi State's recruitment. The NCAA eventually cleared the player and Auburn after a 13-month investigation, and Chizik brought up programs that have recently come under NCAA scrutiny to make his point.
"When the NCAA left, they didn't find anything that indicated anybody was paid or anybody was offered money," Chizik told reporters. "So I'm going to go one step further for all the people that are educated and have common sense. If you don't know how the NCAA works, they're very thorough in their investigations. Let me make that clear: they're very thorough in their investigations. You want me to back that up with fact? I'll name them: Miami, Ohio State. North Carolina. Most recently, Oregon, USC.
"So how could they come into Auburn and leave and find nothing, and that becomes a one-sentence statement after getting drug through the mud for 13 months? How is that right? It's not right. So my point is that, that was a magical season for the Auburn people, for us as coaches, and all of our players, and it should be remembered as just that and nothing more."
Chizik also questioned the ESPN report of widespread use of synthetic marijuana, or spice, for a 14-0 team.
"Let's use a little common sense here," he said. "It's a performance-debilitating drug. So if half of our football team is on it during our 2010 national championship run, how were we performing at a level that was the best football team in the country?"
The athletic and football programs have struggled since then.
Jacobs also said on the Web site that President Jay Gogue has formed a committee to review the athletic department on everything from rules compliance to on-the-field success for a program that had abysmal seasons in both football and men's basketball and then was the subject.
Jacobs said the panel will conduct "a top-to-bottom review," including the leadership's effectiveness.
"There is no question that this has been a tough year for Auburn Athletics," Jacobs said. "We all expect better, and we know we have to win. As disappointing as this year has been, rest assured we will bounce back. We always have."
The Tigers finished last in the SEC in both football and men's basketball.
Gogue's committee includes former Mississippi athletic director Pete Boone, former California-Berkeley AD Dave Maggard, ex-LSU administrator Judy Southard and businessmen Mac Crawford and John Irwin, along with former Auburn player Quentin Riggins.
University spokesman Brian Keeter said outside experts sometimes help with reviews of academic departments and called this move "the responsible thing to do."