Sources: NCAA investigating Auburn
The NCAA has been investigating the recruitment of players courted by Auburn assistants Trooper Taylor and Curtis Luper, according to several sources.
Yahoo! Sports reported Wednesday that Taylor and Luper are not actively recruiting for the school at the present time, due to the investigation. Auburn coach Gene Chizik has declined comment when asked specifically about whether his coaches had been pulled from the recruiting trail.
Taylor is the Tigers' assistant head coach and wide receivers coach, while Luper coaches running backs and is the recruiting coordinator. The website al.com reported Wednesday that at least one Auburn assistant coach and several players were interviewed by the NCAA this week as part of the investigation.
One of the players whose recruitment is being examined is running back Jovon Robinson, sources said. In September, Yvette Lynch, a former guidance counselor at the Memphis high school Robinson attended, was found to have changed the grades of an Auburn football recruit. She told ESPN that she altered the grades at the request of a fellow teacher.
Lynch, 62, who said she retired as a counselor at Wooddale High School in May to care for her ailing husband and mother, wouldn't specifically identify the teacher who she says instructed her to change Robinson's academic transcript.
But when Lynch was asked whether Wooddale physical education teacher Rhonda Wilkinson instructed her to change Robinson's grades, Lynch smiled and told a reporter, "No comment." Later, when Lynch was asked why she changed Robinson's grades, she said: "You already said her name. Go talk to her."
The NCAA declared Robinson academically ineligible after Lynch and another Wooddale guidance counselor admitted to changing one or more grades on his transcript.
Robinson, who was ranked the country's No. 20 running back prospect by ESPN RecruitingNation, was enrolled in classes at Auburn this past summer, but withdrew from school and returned to his mother's home in Memphis.
Citing "someone familiar with the situation," al.com said the current NCAA investigation "is not limited to the recruitment of Robinson."
Chizik, who coached Auburn to the national championship in January 2011, would not confirm if the NCAA was in Auburn this week.
"Again, I'm not going to comment on any speculation about any of that," Chizik said.
Robinson's recruitment has been under scruitiny since late August, when Wooddale guidance counselor Valerie Starks-Sykes admitted making changes to Robinson's transcripts and told Memphis City Schools officials that she was "certain someone had asked her to make the changes but was reluctant to name anyone who may have been involved," according to an email obtained by the Memphis Commercial-Appeal.
Starks-Sykes resigned from the school on Aug. 9. Multiple attempts by ESPN to reach her for comment have been unsuccessful.
Sources familiar with the investigation confirmed to ESPN that among the things the NCAA is attempting to determine is what role, if any, Wilkinson might have had in the alteration of Robinson's transcripts and his recruitment by the Tigers.
In September, when Wilkinson was approached by ESPN and told that Lynch indicated she asked for Robinson's grades to be changed, Wilkinson denied the accusation. Wilkinson, a lifetime wellness and physical science teacher at the school, did confirm to ESPN that she traveled with Robinson to Auburn on one of his unofficial recruiting visits during his senior year.
"He rode with me one time when I was already going myself," Wilkinson said.
An avid Auburn football fan, Wilkinson has been seen leaving Wooddale carrying an Auburn lunch box. Her Jeep has Auburn seat covers and her home is decorated with a blue and orange doormat and mailbox.
Memphis Central High School coach Lynord Crutchfield, who coached Robinson at Wooddale during his junior and seniors seasons, said he met with an NCAA investigator last month about Robinson's transcripts. Crutchfield said the NCAA became aware something was amiss when Auburn officials submitted a transcript to the NCAA Eligibility Center that was different from the one Notre Dame had for the player.
Tina Wardlow, Robinson's mother, said she was unaware her son's grades had been changed until Auburn officials called her late this past summer. Wardlow said she also didn't know Robinson was academically ineligible to play at an FBS school until his grades were altered.
"Why would you change his grades?" Wardlow asked. "If he was failing, why wouldn't you call me to indicate that there was a problem so I could fix it?"
Robinson declined to be interviewed by ESPN reporters, but relayed a comment through his older sister, Kiva: "I don't have any comment, just know the 2013 season is going to be hell."
"In other words, it's a setback for a comeback," sister Kiva Wardlow said.
Robinson's 2012 Dodge Challenger, which is painted with blue and orange stripes and has a big Auburn sticker in the rear window, also raised a red flag for NCAA officials.
According to Tennessee Department of Motor Vehicle records, Robinson purchased the car in April. Robinson's mother told ESPN that he used money from a settlement in the shooting death of his father to purchase the car.
Memphis police shot Jeffery Robinson, a gravedigger and cemetery caretaker, during a botched drug raid in July 2002. Acting on a tip from an informant, police kicked in the door of the outbuilding where Robinson was living and shot him through the neck and jaw. He was paralyzed from the shooting and died of complications from pneumonia six weeks later.
A jury found that Memphis police planted evidence to show Robinson lunged at them with a box cutter. A jury awarded his family $2.85 million in damages, but settled for $1.1 million. As one of Jeffery Robinson's five children, Jovon Robinson received about $145,000 from the settlement after attorney fees.
According to records obtained from Shelby County (Tenn.) Probate Court, Robinson took possession of more than $135,000 from a trust account in April 2012, after he graduated from Wooddale.
"That's what he wanted," Wardlow said. "He has a right to have what he wanted. Everybody has a right to have what they want. I know he's a target right now, but he has the right to have it."
Auburn is 3-8 heading into Saturday's game against Alabama. Last week, Auburn president Jay Gogue said he will evaluate Chizik's job status at the end of the season.
Chizik said he would not talk about the reported investigations.
"I'm not going to comment on any speculation out there," Chizik said, speaking to reporters in Alabama. "I will talk about the Iron Bowl and Alabama."
Chizik said the stories are not a distraction.
"We haven't thought one second about it," he said. "We're right down the line on the Iron Bowl."
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