Sunday, November 14, 2010

Time for a president to speak like one

Who's Jay Gogue?

If you've recognized the name of the Auburn University president you're probably a Tiger alum or fan. Otherwise, the name might not mean much. While the Auburn brand rides a buiding wave of media scrutiny for all the right and wrong reasons inherent to college athletics, Gogue's name and voice have been strangely missing.

Auburn, with another impressive win Saturday, moves within two victories of the national championship game. Yet, it comes against an unprecedented swirl of in-season controversy surrounding the team's and the country's best player, quarterback Cam Newton.

Newton, we have learned, appears to have been hawked by his father, the Rev. Cecil Newton, like some giant Sony flat-screen in a church raffle. Mississippi State sources say the Reverend wanted up to $180,000 for Cam's signature on the scholarship papers. Sources in Starkville also say Cam Newton, who was long believed headed there to play for his old quarterback coach, Dan Mullen, told team recruiters that he would sign with Auburn instead "because the money was too much."

The NCAA is investigating. The FBI is involved. Yet, Newton still plays. That is Auburn's decision. And before the school's football program went on "no-comment" mode this weekend, it had insisted that Cam Newton is fully eligible and that Auburn has done nothing wrong.

But not a word of this has come from Gogue. In short, the Athletic Department is speaking for the university, and that is never a good thing: Exhibit I, my own alma mater, Alabama.

Auburn offers its own legacy, perhaps unlike any found in the football-mad SEC, where what's good for the football program is good for the school. The board of trustees has been run by Bobby Lowder, at one time the most powerful athletic booster in the country. The athletic director is Jay Jacobs, an Auburn insider, who operates under the watchful eye of Pat Dye, the former Auburn coach. Dye, as you may recall, lost his job in the early '90s for a series of NCAA violations, including the widespread practice of paying his players. Yet, he remains beloved on The Plains for being the first Tiger coach to truly look hated Alabama dead in the eye, and he has never left the Auburn payroll.

None of this means Auburn cheated in the Newton case, nor that the athletic department and school's compliance office haven't done due diligence and more in determining how the quarterback came to Auburn. But the school's past -- Auburn almost lost its accreditation in part because of the trustees' meddling in athletic affairs -- does breed skepticism.

That's where Gogue should step in, and this is what he needs to say. "I cheer our football team and all that it has brought to the Auburn family. But I will never let athletics tarnish our school's reputation or compromise its mission. Rest assured, I am in daily contact with the NCAA and with our own compliance officers, and I am fully aware of the steps that we have taken and the ones that remain. You have my word that any decision on this matter will be based on what's best for the entire Auburn community."

That's hardly the "I Have a Dream" speech. It's what we'd expect a president to say in such situations. But Auburn presidents have never had much of a role in athletic matters, and the longer Gogue goes without telling the country's he's in control here, the more it appears he is not.


Anonymous said...

I would submit that Gogue is not in control, and never has been. As you stated earlier in the post, what's good for the football team is good for the school. I think it has always been that way. And I think it has been that way for a long time at many traditional football powerhouse schools. I do have faith in my school's compliance office, believing that since the NCAA became involved in this mess in July, that Auburn would have taken some action long ago if there was any possibility that Newton would be found ineligible. And I still think these Bond and Rogers guys are playing the role of Mike Nifong - shady characters that are making the most of an opportunity to make themselves famous, regardless of what the truth may be. I may be wrong, but hope I'm not.

And while on this subject, I'd like to address something said last night during the BCS Countdown show. One of the ESPN talking heads, who have been displaying a baffling anti-Auburn bias for weeks now, said, "Are we really expected to believe that if Cecil Newton was soliciting money for his son's signature, that his son would know nothing about it?" I say yes, it is possible. The likelihood can be debated, but the possibility does exist. Who among us has a child that we can honestly say, "I know exactly what my child is doing every second of every minute of every day?" Who among us could say the same of our parent(s) when we were kids? Again, the likelihood of Cam not knowing if Rev. Dad had him on the auction block is certainly up for debate, to dismiss the posibility of Cam not knowing about it as impossible is just as crazy.

Another talking head compared Newton to AJ Green and Marcel Darius, noting that the latter two were held out of games at the start of the year "just in case" they were to be declared ineligible later in the year, and wondered why Auburn didn't do the same with Newton. The only plausible notion is that they were convinced from their own investigation that there was no fire under this smoke.

There is little chance this will be settled before Jan. 7, especially now that the Feds are involved. So, if we win the BCS title game and then next summer the NCAA decides Newton was ineligible, it would be interesting to see how things shake out. They would obviously strip us of all 14 wins, and then they'd probably give the national title to whoever we beat in the title game. Then that team would have a title without the benefit of being able to celebrate it and without the student body getting to revel and drink copious amounts of adult beverages. The reactions would be interesting to watch.

Michael said...

Thanks J.

Your perspective is always welcomed.