Under Gene Chizik, did Auburn wrongfully cover-up failed drug tests or not?

Auburn Tigers head coach Gene Chizik yells to his players against the Alabama Crimson Tide during the first quarter at Bryant Denny Stadium. (John David Mercer-USA TODAY Sports)

Former Auburn Tigers head coach Gene Chizik yells to his players against the Alabama Crimson Tide during the first quarter at Bryant Denny Stadium. (John David Mercer-USA TODAY Sports)

The answer to the title question, according to ESPN the Magazine and E:60, is a resounding yes. During the Auburn Tigers’ national title-winning season of 2010, the football program was “gripped by an epidemic of synthetic marijuana use that led to a rash of failed drug tests and a decision at the highest levels of the university’s athletic department to keep the results confidential.”

Sounds bad.

Even worse, the news comes in a week where former coach Gene Chizik’s entire tenure has come into question following a report on roopstigo.com that claims players were bribed to play for Auburn and their grades were forged to make them eligible to do so.

Sounds really bad.

But does it?

Almost immediately after Selena Roberts published her bribery and forgery report, largely focusing on Mike McNeil as the former player readies himself for trial for alleged armed robbery, the three other players quoted all either denied their words outright, claimed that they were quoted out of context or were grossly misquoted. At this point, the story comes down to a matter of he-said-she-said. Both Chizik and current athletic director Jay Jacobs have both vehemently denied any “pay for play” scandals going on under their watch, and there is nothing Roberts can do to prove otherwise.

On the same token, Jacobs has shot down the ESPN report regarding a massive coverup of the failed drug tests of dozens of former student-athletes.

However, this time he has actual evidence to back him up, unlike in the case of the Roberts report.

First and foremost, the timeline of the ESPN investigation immediately comes into question — and it fails to hold up under any sort of scrutiny.

The players who failed the drug tests for synthetic marijuana did so back in 2010. At that time, synthetic pot was not illegal. Jacobs puts it succinctly as a part of a longer statement and open letter to the Auburn family:

  • Auburn Athletics began testing for synthetic marijuana three days after our testing company made a test available. A test became available on Jan. 24, 2011, and Auburn added the test to its panel on Jan. 27, 2011.
  • Since our drug testing policy was amended to include synthetic marijuana as a banned substance, there have been three positive tests for the drug out of more than 2,500 drug tests administered. Those three individuals are no longer on Auburn Athletics rosters.

Thus, even though players were smoking it and even coming up positive for the same chemicals found in real weed, there was nothing the Auburn athletic department could do. Not until any viable testing for it was actually available, and that was not until January of 2011, well after the crystal ball was already in their trophy case.

Further, the ESPN report claims that no parents were notified of the failed drug tests. This fact was used by the Worldwide Leader as a portion of its claim that Auburn was systematically concealing the positive tests in order to keep players on the field.

However, Jacobs has an answer for that too:

A parent interviewed told ESPN they would have done more to help her son had we done more to let her know he was in trouble. That is incorrect. The facts demonstrate that our coaches and Sports Medicine professionals had regular communication with the parents and that every effort was made to warn our student-athletes about the dangers of synthetic marijuana.

Do not simply take Jacobs’ word for it. Auburn’s Rivals’ site interviewed a parent who basically called ESPN’s investigation totally baseless.

“It’s just false and inaccurate. As a parent, I was notified, so that bumps the fact that no parents were notified,” said one parent that wishes to remain anonymous. “I haven’t seen the ESPN story, but if they said the parents weren’t notified, that’s not true. I was called and I know two other parents that were notified, too.

“I know for sure two, from me seeing them down there. If they notified me and two other parents, if there was anyone else, I’m sure they were told. I don’t understand this.”

So, what have we learned so far?

We have learned that ESPN did not do their due-diligence before going ahead and causing a panic about a synthetic drug widely known as “spice”.

We know that Auburn did have student-athletes using it, but that it was not illegal until later, thus making the users’ actions totally, completely, 100-percent legal.

Finally, we also know that parents were notified by Auburn, in spite of the fact that their sons were not even, technically, doing anything wrong.

Have holes been poked into the ESPN report?

Of course, but, with all of this being said, there is an increasing number of people, blogs and news outlets that seem to be missing the point.

There are those who would walk away from the ESPN report having taken it at face value: Auburn is loaded with punks and delinquents who would go through whatever means necessary to get high and play football.

Then there are others, of course, who look at the actual facts and ask, ‘Hey, what did Auburn do wrong? They did everything to the letter of the law?’

Technically, those within the latter school of thought are right, but again, the point is missed.

Forgive the “smoking” reference, but, basically, where there’s smoke there’s fire.

The rumors surrounding Heisman winner Cam Newton’s recruitment to Auburn has been a cause for questioning for years. There was already issues with Chizik forging high school athletes’ grades in order to help get them to The Plains.

Now, in a matter of days, there come claims of bribery, more grades changed and now failed (fake) drug tests.

The point is, whether or not Auburn did anything technically wrong, something is definitely out of whack with this football program.

Thus, the question should not be, ‘What did Auburn do wrong?’

Instead, we should be asking, ‘Why do we keep hearing about the same issues at the same school regarding the same time period?’

Is it because where there’s (synthetic) smoke, there’s fire?

If you were to ask Jacobs, Chizik, or the players who refuted roopstigo.com’s report, they would tell you that no, there is no fire. The reports/rumors/claims are all simply synthetic, manufactured to drum up headlines against their football program.

If you were to ask Selena Roberts, who graduated from Auburn before writing for the New York Times, Sports Illustrated and now her own roopstigo.com, there is nothing fake about fake drugs and fake grades (and yes, we understand exactly how ludicrous this all sounds).

Finally, the last question. Ask yourself one thing: Who do you believe?

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