Report: Auburn bribed players

Updated: April 4, 2013, 11:17 PM ET
ESPN.com news services

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.

Blanc told ESPN's Jonathan Coachman on Thursday that the report was not true. He tweeted Wednesday: "Man this article is outrageous and isn't true."

According to his uncle, Andre Dyer, Michael Dyer said he was "never even close" to being academically ineligible prior to the 2011 BCS national championship game.

Dyer made the game-sealing run as a true freshman in the title game against Oregon. He ran for 1,093 yards as a freshman and 1,242 as a sophomore before leaving the program for an undisclosed violation of team rules.

If Dyer or other Tigers' players were found to have been ineligible to compete, Auburn's national championship would be in jeopardy.

In a statement released Thursday, Auburn athletics director Jay Jacobs said Auburn is reviewing the report, even though the school has "no reason to believe these allegations are either accurate or credible."

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 Adams, 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.' "

Muschamp denied McNeil's account to Roberts through a spokesperson and again to the Gainesville Sun.

"Totally deny it," Muschamp told the newspaper. "I don't know where this is coming from."

Blanc told AL.com later Wednesday his knowledge of the payments was second-hand.

"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 spokeman 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 "determined there was not sufficient evidence Auburn committed major rules violations 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."

Mike McNeil told Roberts the coaching staff far exceeded its NCAA-allotted per diem for entertaining recruits. McNeil said coaches gave him $500 to entertain current Cincinnati Bengals cornerback Dre Kirkpatrick, even though the NCAA reportedly limits expenses to less than $50 per day.

Kirkpatrick told ESPN's Joe Schad that Auburn players spent little or no money during his recruiting visit.

"We went to a house party with no cover," Kirkpatrick said. "Nobody gave me money. Nobody spent money on me."

Kirkpatrick said his best visits were actually Bama and Texas, not Auburn.

Thorpe tweeted Wednesday that he was "misquoted" in Roberts' story. He told the Columbus Ledger-Enquirer for a story that appeared Wednesday: "I'm just trying to clear my name up and let Auburn fans and Auburn nation know the things that were said in that report were not my words."

Roberts defended her reporting to AL.com, saying she feels players are feeling pressure to soften their quotes.

"I think it's very difficult to take a strong stance and to tell the truth and then to have to deal with the consequences in a place where I think the story even shows that there is a great deal of pressure to keep what's in-house, in-house," Roberts said. "I think the entire sort of umbrella of the story explains just what's at risk for people who step outside the bounds. In some ways, it almost dovetails with the story that they may not know exactly what's going on. They may feel that kind of pressure to then alter what they said to me."

All of these allegations happened under Chizik, who guided Auburn to its first national title since 1957 after the 2010 season.

Chizik was fired after a 3-9 season last year.

Information from ESPN's Joe Schad was used in this report.

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