SEC Bloggers: Real Sports Much Ado About...
After considerable hype leading into HBO's Real Sports broadcast, we were left wanting more. Or less. But we were definitely left wanting something.
For all of the sensational build up, there wasn't much on substance. Without specifics, Stanley McClover and Co. haven't spoken out about anything truly Earth-shattering.
That doesn't mean the accusations should be completely dismissed as the sour grapes of some ex-players with an axe to grind -- although it is very clear that that four players involved do have their own motivations. This is just more smoke added to a signal that will inevitably call the NCAA back to Auburn, Ala. - if they've even left.
Whether they'll ever find something is any one's guess. But there's just too much circumstantial evidence for the NCAA to ignore. We just saw this play out with the USC sanctions, as media report begot media report until there was just too much of it for the powers-that-be to stay away. Plus, the collective weight of the media has better ability to do real investigation, something the NCAA has almost no power to do given limited resources.
Will this, or the Cam Newton investigation ever lead to some sort of penalty? History suggests yes, eventually. Will it ever lead to the sort of SMU-style destruction folks in Tuscaloosa are praying for? Probably not. But one thing is for sure, none of it is good for college football.
Five months wait for that?
The Real Sports report was long hype and short substance. Interesting in parts, but no Cam smoking gun (presume that's coming... one day). No egregious transactions (think: a house). Just that money handshakes are going on - which is a jaw dropper.
I'm not suggesting that money handshakes are a good thing; they're a violation of rules, just like they were back when Truman was President. And everyone and their brother knows it.
But it's hardly worth the clamor that led up to this broadcast. Particularly given that even with the money handshakes, there was a lack of actual facts in the form of dates, names, etc. The only material revelation was Reddick's assertion that he was paid by coaches, but even there - no specifics. It was mostly a "He said/He said" affair.
We can now expect a number of ex-Auburn players to step forward and refute these claims, though again, we sink into the world of accusations without substance.
There was even less detail on corruption in college basketball, other than innuendo and statements everyone has known for years (Packer: AAU basketball is sleazy).
And don't expect much of an NCAA investigation or draconian punishment (as way of payback for the Newton matter) for money handshakes. First, there's likely much worse going on that requires the NCAA's attention. Second, right or wrong, this occurs at all levels of collegiate athletics - and not just the FBS. Booster money handshakes even occur for the smaller, non-revenue generating sports.
Again, we're not suggesting that's a positive, but do you think the already resource-stretched NCAA really wants to lift that rock and let the light shine in? Or set new precedent with stiff penalties?
The eye catcher for me in this hour long, mildly over-hyped, interesting but certainly nothing-new broadcast was the unwillingness on the part of the NCAA to participate. Why exactly would the NCAA be so reluctant to simply discuss its rules and the member organizations it serves?
You already know why - the answer is in that last word: serves. For the greatest, darkest secret about the NCAA is this - it was never built to exert power/influence on its member organizations. All the power resides at the edges - with the universities. Which is why the enforcement division has always been so grossly underfunded/staffed.
It was built to make/protect money, which it's doing quite nicely, thank you kindly. Which is perhaps the greatest service to come from this Real Sports broadcast: shinning a spotlight on the curious operations of the NCAA.
Something tells me this won't be the last time Gumbel and crew come knocking on the NCAA's door.
Well folks, it looks as if we have found the College Sports equivalent to MLB's steroid issue... accusations of money exchanging hands from motivated former players, friends and teammates. Like steroids, where there is smoke there is fire, and while much of what the four Auburn players spoke about last night has been refuted, it is difficult not to believe there is some truth to it.
Listening to these former players last night I was immediately reminded of a column Rick Reilly tried to write roughly ten years ago. He was in the Chicago Cubs locker room and Sammy Sosa was voicing his desire to take a steroid test to prove his innocence. Reilly comes up with the idea that they go do it together and he can write about the experience. Suddenly Sosa's boasting turned into crickets.
The bottom line is that if you are going to proclaim your innocence or guilt you have to be willing to back it up and do more than talk. The former players that alleged improper benefits won't hurt anything but Auburn's perception until they start giving details to the NCAA. No details to the NCAA and this story should lose all credibility.
The problem for Auburn is that their national perception keeps getting worse... from the Newton Situation to this report, Auburn is viewed as a dirty program. Auburn fans are going to defend their school and everyone else will want the book thrown at them. It is exactly like Barry Bonds' last year with the Giants. Everyone in the country believed that he was using steroids except the fans in San Francisco.
That, or they just felt he was "their steroid user".
This is not to say that Auburn and Bonds are one in the same, but that fans will go to any length and believe/defend their team. Wait and see is all we can do. If there are teeth to these accusations, Auburn will likely burn for them. If these former players can't defend their claims they will be chastised and forgotten... Just like this story.
First and foremost, if Auburn is paying players, Auburn should be punished for it. But, with that said, the HBO Real Sports episode was the television equivalent of the Loch Ness Monster.
There was nothing in it that can be proven real, and it's nearly impossible for Auburn to prove that they didn't do something. It was a tourist attraction, plain and simple.
The most damaging testimony was, by far, Troy Reddick's assertion that members of Tommy Tuberville's coaching staff gave him envelopes filled with money. That's the one piece of the special that will raise the ears of NCAA investigators.
The $100 handshakes will too, at least to a certain extent. But if you don't think $100 handshakes happen everywhere, please take this moment to step back into reality. If Reddick's accusations are legitimate, Auburn could find itself in some serious trouble, provided he is willing to name names - something that he didn't do in the HBO show.
It is true that two of the players gave stories that fall outside of the NCAA's four-year statute of limitations, but the NCAA can waive that statute if it finds a systemic failure to abide by the rules. Here's where it gets tricky though - if the NCAA does waive the statute, that would open up Stanley's McClover's testimony into the discussion.
The problem the NCAA would then face is that it would also have to look into McClover's assertion that he received money handshakes at LSU and sexual favors at Ohio State. Who was the LSU's chancellor during McClover's visit to Baton Rouge? Current NCAA president Mark Emmert. I don't think the NCAA will be going down that road.
What I did find strange is HBO's defense of the show leading up to its airing. Andrea Kremer, the reporter of the Auburn segment, made the radio rounds defending HBO's methods, which have been called into question by some. What caught my attention was her statement on the WJOX Roundtable (7:00 mark) that, as a journalist, you have to "go and give other people the opportunity to respond, and if you don't have both sides, you can't present it." SportsByBrooks reported on February 23 that McClover's high school coach and two assistants refuted his claims to HBO, but none of those interviews were included, or even mentioned in the piece.
With all that being said, this certainly doesn't look good for Auburn. If the four former players - or any other players that came through the program - are willing to name names of the coaches or boosters they claim were involved, the NCAA will have its lead, and infractions could come of it.
If they're unwilling to name names, then this story will fizzle away, much like the Cam Newton investigation did. Personally, I think the NCAA will give this a serious look, and depending on what it finds - and more importantly, the specific details of what they learn - Auburn could be in some trouble. I don't see the "death penalty" - or anything close to it - happening though.
The thing that stood out the most to me is that HBO painted the players as victims in a multi-billion dollar enterprise. I do not buy that; the trade-off is a free education worth ~200,000 in many cases, and the type of exposure that money cannot buy.
That exposure will set the best up for million dollar apparel deals with Under Armour and Nike, and the rest with name recognition which (combined with the education) could help in a future job search - which they wouldn't have if not for the school.
Most interesting to me was the Ed O'Bannon lawsuit regarding using a player's likeness after he has left school. Should EA Sports or whomever use that without some form of restitution? No. But Ed O'Bannon, Tyrone Prothro and others should have read more carefully the scholarship papers they were signing.
This further proves Jason Whitlock's point that the majority of these kids are not prepared mentally for what they are agreeing to and how to take advantage of the opportunities given.
I am sure that the first time a player reads his scholarship papers is not on national signing day, at least it shouldn't be. Is he comprehending what he is reading though? Are his parents reading it? Though even if they are, do they have any recourse to amend the contract?
Perhaps the incentive based education for scholarship athletes posed by Whitlock is a good idea. If you stay in school for one year you get $X, two years $X more, and if you graduate then you get $X. If Alabama football or Duke basketball had salaries like the ones mentioned in the show, that's another chance to get rid of the under the table money.
But if it's a percentage of the total revenue generated by each school's football program, then would the larger schools have an additional advantage, as they could pay their players more?
Regardless, as with anything there are always people wanting more. The disease of more as Pat Riley once called. More playing time, more winning, more money. It would never truly end. And what about Sally or Billy on academic scholarship? I'm sure they would want the same benefits even though they are not generating the revenue of athletes. A lawsuit would be a guarantee, but if there is a way around that then the NCAA would find it.
Rigo Nunez, the UMass basketball player who relayed the plan that basketball players considered protesting playing, was incredibly enlightening. Something on that scale would take amazing coordination and I don't think it would ever happen, but maybe last night's show put a seed in someone's brain who might try to make it work. Imagine if it was reserved just for the Final Four - thus cutting down considerably on the coordination required to execute the "work stoppage". What a message that would send.
The accusations by McClover were not surprising at all, unless you live in Utopia. LSU, Michigan State, Auburn and Ohio State boosters offered money to McClover. Pretty vague. McClover asked for a specific amount to go to Auburn, but the exact amount he somehow never mentions. That is sketchy to me at best. As are the numerous rebuttals by former teammates and high school coaches of the validity of his statements.
McClover said he wanted the segment to be about his charity, but save for a token picture at the end there was little of that. Can anyone name his charity or tell me what it's about? Check out McClover's tweet..."Just got finish watchn real sports loved every minute of it!!!" Does that sound like someone who was out to promote his charity?
The former players all had an axe to grind, in my opinion. McClover's pro career did not go the way he planned and he has had difficulty adjusting, and finding work. Chaz Ramsey sued Auburn unsuccessfully due to a career-ending injury. Troy Reddick was the most inconsistent to me even though he had the most damning accusation. Reddick didn't want anyone to own him but he went to Auburn anyway? And if what he said happened is true, then he was bought: plain and simple.
If Reddick did not want to be at Auburn and was so unhappy then why did he apply to be a graduate assistant recently? He was denied. Why did he ask the athletic department for tickets to the BCS National Championship game? He was denied.
What everyone wanted to hear were names, dates and proof. Who was the coach that Ramsey and Raven Gray mentioned used to intimate that football was first and academics was second? I am sure the NCAA will look into this, but there needs to be names - and proof. Until that day, this is nothing more than piling on the new whipping boy of college sports: Auburn University.
Please follow Russ Mitchell on Twitter @russmitchellsec, Brian Harbach @harbabd and Barrett Sallee @barrettsallee.
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