Auburn’s football program changed players’ grades to secure eligibility, offered money to potential NFL draft picks so they would return for their senior seasons, and violated NCAA recruiting rules under former coach Gene Chizik, according to a report by former New York Times and Sports Illustrated writer Selena Roberts.
The report appears on Roberts’ website, Roopstigo.com. According to three former Auburn players, as many as nine players’ grades were changed before Auburn’s win in the 2011 BCS national championship game.
“We thought we would be without (running back) Mike Dyer because he said he was one of them, but Auburn found a way to make those dudes eligible,” former Auburn defensive lineman Mike Blanc told Roberts.
In an interview with AL.com Wednesday, Blanc denied the quote. Blanc later tweeted: “Man this article is outrageous and isn’t true.”
According to the report, Auburn coaches offered money to players for any number of reasons, including as a means to convince players to bypass the NFL draft.
Darvin Adama, a former Auburn wide receiver, told Roberts that coaches offered him cash to keep him at the school.
Blanc and Mike McNeil, another former Auburn player, told Roberts the money amounts reached “several thousand dollars.”
“Coaches would say, ‘Don’t tell anyone where you got it from,'” Blanc told Roberts.
McNeil told Roberts he had a meeting with then-defensive coordinator Will Muschamp, now Florida’s coach, in 2007.
“I had no clue what it was about because I’d never directly asked him for anything,” McNeil told Roberts. “He slid about $400 over to me. He went into a drawer and gave me money and said, ‘Is this enough? Is this good?’ And I said, ‘Yeah, I’m good.'”
Blanc told AL.com later Wednesday his knowledge of the payments was second-hand, and he had no direct knowledge.
“Yeah. Me, personally, I don’t have any direct knowledge of it,” Blanc told AL.com. “You just hear stuff. I’m pretty sure other guys on the team that know more, like guys that were closer to Darvin and these other players I know. Darvin probably would have told those guys. I know Mike and Darvin were really cool. Maybe Darvin could have shared some information with Mike. But, me, personally, I don’t know nothing factual that any guys got any money.”
An Auburn athletic department spokesman declined comment to AL.com, as did Chizik’s agent, Russ Campbell.
McNeil is awaiting trial for armed robbery stemming from a March 2011 arrest. In June, his former teammate Antonio Goodwin was sentenced to 15 years in prison for his part in the incident. Ben Hand, McNeil’s former attorney, maintained McNeil’s innocence to Roberts.
Former Auburn defensive back Nieko Thorpe told Roberts that Auburn, in a team meeting, threatened players’ scholarships if they contacted McNeil, Goodwin or the two other players arrested.
McNeil told Roberts he felt Auburn used him as a scapegoat at a time when the Tigers faced negative publicity from allegations that the father of star quarterback Cam Newton had asked for money during his son’s recruitment. An NCAA investigation found Auburn committed no major rule violation in the Newton case.
“Maybe there is a fear in Auburn’s mind that Michael knows too much,” McNeil’s father, Clifton, told Roberts. “Their fear is that Michael will expose the family secret. It’s a way to silence him.”
Read more: ESPN.