Auburn: Questions surround ESPN report

Auburn: Questions surround ESPN report

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[dropcap]W[/dropcap]e pointed out in our look at Selena Roberts’ Auburn exposé that, in Auburn, she had found the perfect target.

ESPN quickly jumped all over Roberts’ article, and followed it up yesterday with a report accusing Auburn of attempting to cover up failed drug tests for synthetic marijuana.

(For what it’s worth, Deadspin agrees with us that there are lots of flaws in Roberts’ story.)

John Pennington, of MrSEC.com, asks the questions, Why Auburn? Why now?

In the case of the ESPN probe, why Auburn? LSU Heisman candidate Tyrann Mathieu became the poster boy for synthetic weed — “spice” — late last summer when he was booted from the Tiger team. Yet ESPN decided to investigate AU instead. Why? And why now?

The second question can be answered first. ESPN wanted to cash in on the national spotlight already being aimed on the Plains. No one’s talking about Roberts and the site Roopstigo.com now. They’re talking about ESPN. You can trust the network decided to push up the release of its story to take full advantage of the Auburn buzz already created by Roberts.

The answer is simple on the “Why Auburn?” front, too.  Because AU’s athletic department is near the top of the NCAA’s all-time most wanted list.  Its seven all-time major infractions cases rank behind only Arizona State and SMU in terms of repeated bad behavior.  Also, Auburn is one of the traditional power schools in what’s currently the best conference for football in America.  An SEC scandal?  That’s worth a lot of pageviews and eyeballs as so many people across the country want to see the king’s crown tarnished.

Auburn’s repeat offender status ensures that the Tigers will always be a suspect.  Like an ex-con who’s turned to every time a watch goes missing, AU will always have to deal with raised eyebrows and suspicious glances.  The school’s athletic department has made that bed and fair or not it will always have to lie in it.

There’s another issue of timing — Mike McNeil’s felony armed robbery trial scheduled to begin next week. The parents of former players Dakota Mosley and Shaun Kitchens, both of whom were arrested in conjunction with the robbery, were quoted in the ESPN piece as saying they weren’t informed of their sons’ positive tests.

As Auburn athletic director Jay Jacobs pointed out in an open letter to AU fans, it’s clear that the defendants plan to make synthetic marijuana part of their defense.

The media, always in search of a scandalous headline, bit hook, line and sinker.

But at the risk of coming off as Auburn apologists, it’s hard to see exactly what Auburn did wrong in the case of the failed drug tests.

Synthetic marijuana was not illegal during the time period in question. (Alabama did not outlaw it until October 2011, and before then, it could be purchased in most any gas station across the state.) It was also not part of Auburn’s drug policy until August 2011, the same time it went on the NCAA’s banned substances list.

According to AuburnSports.com, Auburn was participating in experimental testing, working with its drug test provider to develop a test for synthetic marijuana. (ESPN points out that a California company had already developed a synthetic marijuana test, but Jacobs said that Auburn was “one of the first, if not the first” schools in the SEC to begin testing for it.)

Auburn began using the experimental tests on Jan. 24, three days after the tests became available. The twelve positives mentioned by ESPN were during the experimental testing period. Auburn says it could not tell if it was catching repeat offenders with weekly tests or recurring positives from the same usage.

It’s difficult to imagine any school risking the lawsuits that could come over suspending players for (a) failing a test for a drug that wasn’t illegal to purchase nor on the NCAA’s banned substances list, and that (b) was tested while the school was working with the drug test company to develop a test for the substance.

Auburn began using the fully operational test when it became available in August 2011, and says that there have only been three positive tests out of more than 2,500 tests given. Those athletes are no longer part of the program.

ESPN’s report claims that Auburn did not notify parents about the positive tests and quotes two of the former players involved in the armed robbery to back that claim up.

However, AuburnSports.com spoke with two parents who said that they were notified by coaches about positive tests. Auburn’s official statement also states that parents were contacted about positive tests by both phone and written correspondence.

Photo credit: Todd Van Emst / Auburn University

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