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Auburn players, UF coach, Police Chief claim report on violations is false

Photo by Daniel Kay

Photo by Daniel Kay

AUBURN, Ala. — Former Auburn safety Mike McNeil, who is scheduled to go to trial next week on armed robbery charges stemming from a March 2011 incident, made claims that Auburn committed multiple NCAA violations during his time on the Plains.

After the report, which was published by former New York Times and Sports Illustrated reporter Selena Roberts on her website Roopstigo.com, hit Wednesday afternoon, four former players, Florida head coach Will Muschamp and Auburn Police Chief Tommy Dawson came out on Thursday and disputed the story and/or their quotes in it.

When reached by phone Wednesday evening, former defensive tackle Mike Blanc told the Opelika-Auburn News, “None of that stuff in there that she said I said is true. None of it’s true.”

It’s perhaps one of the strangest Auburn football stories in a recent history full of them.

McNeil, who was the Tigers’ leading tackler in the 2010 BCS National Championship Game, alleged there was a culture in the football program that included academic fraud, pay-for-play schemes, recruiting violations and failed drug tests in a story written by Roberts, titled “Auburn’s Tainted Title: Victims, Violations and Vendettas.”

In the story, Blanc, who was McNeil’s roommate at Auburn, is prominently quoted in the section about grade changes.

Blanc was one of three former players who said in the report the team was told that as many as nine Auburn players would have been academically ineligible for the BCS title game.

“We thought we would be without Mike Dyer because he said he was one of them, but Auburn found a way to make those dudes eligible,” Blanc was quoted as saying in the Roopstigo.com story.

Wednesday evening, Blanc denied saying that.

“Maybe they got those quotes from other players and they used me as a source,” Blanc told the Opelika-Auburn News. “But those quotes in there by me are not true.”

In an email to the Opelika-Auburn News, Roberts, who is an Auburn graduate, said she stood behind her interview with Blanc.

“Mike Blanc displayed a lot of courage and conviction when we spoke,” she said in an email. “I’m sure he felt the backlash from the Auburn community today for being that brave.”

Another player who was quoted in Roberts’ story, former safety Neiko Thorpe, posted on Twitter on Wednesday night that he was also misquoted in the article.

“While I spoke to Selena Roberts about Mike I have just read her article & not only am I misquoted but my words are very out of context,” Thorpe tweeted. “We didn’t talk about NCAA violations or recruiting. I’m proud 2 have played at Auburn & the opportunities it gave me.”

Former players Daren Bates and Antonio Coleman also disputed the article on Twitter on Wednesday night.

There were also some factual discrepancies with the Roopstigo.com article as well.

Early in the article, Capt. Corey Welch is said to work for the Auburn Police Division, and that he’s the one who originally talked to McNeil’s family the day after his arrest on March 11. Capt. Welch does not work for the APD. Instead, he works for the Lee County Sheriff’s Office Detention Center Division, Dawson and Lee County Sheriff Jay Jones said.

McNeil also alleged instances in which Auburn players were paid.

McNeil said in the article that after a practice in 2007 then-Auburn defensive coordinator Muschamp, who was on Tommy Tuberville’s staff, gave him $400.

Muschamp, now the head coach at the University of Florida, denied any wrongdoing through a team spokesperson.

Former Auburn receiver Darvin Adams said in the article that he was offered money to stay at Auburn his senior year instead of turning pro.

Adams told the website that he didn’t take the money and declined to disclose the exact amount in that offer, which was among other financial incentives.

Blanc, in the story, was quoted as saying, “Coaches would say, ‘Don’t tell anyone where you got it from,’” when talking about in-season payments.

But when reached Wednesday evening, Blanc said he never saw, heard or experienced a player getting paid.

“Me personally, I can say that I never seen players get paid,” Blanc told the Opelika-Auburn News. “I never had a player come up to me and tell me they’ve been paid. And I have most definitely never been paid.”

Auburn declined to comment “regarding the claims in the story,” according to AU Assistant Athletic Director for Media Relations Kirk Sampson on Wednesday evening. Former Auburn head coach Gene Chizik also declined comment for the initial story.

McNeil’s armed robbery trial is set to begin next week, and he could face up to 21 years in prison. Former teammate Antonio Goodwin is currently serving 15 years in jail after being found guilty last April to his part in the crime. Shaun Kitchens’ trial is also scheduled for next week, while Dakota Mosley, the fourth player arrested and charged in the armed robbery of a residence in Conway Acres Trailer Park, is scheduled to go to trial in June.

In a motion filed Tuesday, McNeil’s attorney Ben Hand requested that he withdraw as McNeil’s attorney. Hand could not be reached for comment by the Opelika-Auburn News on Wednesday.

Roberts’ report also alleged Auburn players were harassed by Auburn police and that APD was part of the program of surveillance.

“We were targeted by police,” former defensive end Antoine Carter said in the article. “You’d get harassed. They would pull you over for nothing as a way to keep track of you.”

Dawson, who is currently on medical leave from the Auburn Police Division, denied the allegations, saying he was “disappointed in the article.”

“As far as players being harassed, if a player commits a traffic violation, they’re going to get pulled over,” Dawson told the Opelika-Auburn News on Wednesday evening, referring to McNeil’s account in the website article that he was pulled over for a traffic-light violation. “I think one part of (the article) said, it’s not illegal to turn right on red. Well, it is illegal to turn right on red at some intersections in Auburn due to limited sight distance. So if he got pulled over for turning right on red and got a ticket, then that’s what should have happened. We enforce the traffic laws fairly, and we have to do that to protect our citizens.”

Dawson also refuted insinuations in the article that he deferred decisions to Auburn coaches when it came to players getting in trouble.

“I have never cared what a football coach over there wanted or how he felt we should do our job,” Dawson said. “They don’t tell us how to police. And we police the best we can to protect the citizens of Auburn, especially our students. I’m not trying to be ugly, but I really don’t care what the football coach thinks about us enforcing the law. We do it like we should.”

Auburn police refused comment in the Roopstigo.com story and referred all questions to Lee County District Attorney Robert Treese, according to the website. Treese never returned calls, the story said.

Dawson added that the safety of Auburn students is a top priority for him and the APD.

“It would not be unusual for us to ban someone and for me to tell someone’s attorney not to allow them back on campus if they’ve have committed a class A felony,” Dawson said in response to the portion of the article that said McNeil was banned from campus after his arrest. “My sole job, and I think people realize this, for several years now I’ve done the very best I could to protect these students. And if someone commits a robbery tonight, I don’t care whether they are a student, or a football player, baseball player, whatever. If they commit a class A felony, I’m going to do all I can do to keep them banned from campus.

“Because parents from all over this country trusted us to take care of those kids while we were here, and we’re going to do our very best to do it. And we’ll continue to do it in the future.

“So, I’m a little bit disappointed that someone would make these accusations.”