By Jess Nicholas, TideFans.com Editor-In-Chief
Oct. 12, 2011
The NCAA closed its 13-month investigation into the Auburn program, officially on all fronts. There remains a cloud over players recruited through Willie Lyles, which tangentially involves some current Auburn players, but most of the trouble there seems to point to Oregon and maybe LSU.
In closing the Auburn case, the NCAA essentially ushered in the age of “2 Scenarios, 1 Result.” Either Auburn did nothing wrong, or was very good at hiding it. But the only thing that matters is the result: an all-clear.
This means Auburn’s 2010 BCS National Championship stands. Cam Newton’s Heisman Trophy is safe. The NCAA, as is custom, did say that new facts coming to light could reopen the case, but how often does that happen? You’d be hard-pressed to find evidence that it’s ever happened.
The national sentiment still seems to be that Auburn bought a championship, but the NCAA says no evidence of said purchase exists. The national media certainly seems to think it, given the steady flow of stories on the Auburn program ever since the title was won. But again, the proof – or lack thereof – is in the pudding.
About the only person who did lose something tangible over this was oddsmaker Danny Sheridan. What he lost is credibility. Sheridan’s musings on the existence of a bagman turned out to be an epic failure on his part, so bad in fact that the NCAA uncharacteristically broke radio silence to issue a statement saying he was wasting the organization’s time.
It’s possible that Sheridan was telling the truth, but he produced nothing tangible that the media or general public – or apparently, the NCAA – could examine. Sheridan came off looking like a guy trying to jump on someone’s coattails. Thousands of rival fans ended up getting led on a wild goose chase.
And thus, we return to the crux of the decision: The official statement is that Auburn did nothing wrong. Therefore, officially, Auburn did indeed do nothing wrong, and everything else was just noise, possibly perpetrated by rival fans who couldn’t stand the thought of the Tigers winning a national championship.
The alternative theory – that there was something afoul, but Auburn brass covered it up – is frightening to consider, because if that’s what really happened, it worked. It didn’t just work halfway, it worked all the way. And if it worked once, it will work again.
This is the kind of nightmare that keeps people in Indianapolis up at night. The NCAA lacks subpoena power, nor does it have any authority to enforce its bylaws through the legal system. Presuming a school wishes to cheat, so long as it keeps the seals airtight, it can succeed.
Nearly every successful NCAA investigation has a secret witness, scorned party or former employee who gets religion and comes clean. In the Auburn case, four former players outlined a payola scheme to reporters at HBO, but apparently failed to come up with any documented proof of their claims when NCAA investigators came calling. At best, those four former Auburn players are lousy record-keepers; at worst, they took a cheap shot at their alma mater for reasons not yet understood.
This is where the lesson lies. If you’re going to come forward with something, whether you’re an oddsmaker with ties to a rival program, a former player at the program itself, or a friend of a guy who knows a guy who allegedly taped someone saying this or that – prove it. Document it. Put it in the hands of someone who can and will do something about it. And make copies beforehand so it can’t be buried.
If you believe Auburn is guiltless, then justice was served Wednesday. If you believe Auburn pulled a D.B. Cooper on the NCAA, you’re left with a real doozy of a choice: Either continue to fully comply with every NCAA rule and hope no rogue booster or player with his hand out ever finds purchase with a willing co-conspirator, or lock down the hatches and cheat like hell.
Two scenarios, one result, indeed.
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