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Tuesday, September 16, 2003
Updated: September 17, 8:40 AM ET
ABC calls two-year-old remarks 'off the record'

ESPN.com news services

AUBURN, Ala. -- Former Auburn coach Terry Bowden said on tape two years ago that boosters were funneling thousands of dollars to football players when he became coach in 1993, a time when the Tigers already were on NCAA probation.

"They were paying players cash, $12,000, $15,000 to sign," Bowden said on the recording. "All I was told to do was shake hands and say, 'Thank you. I appreciate how much you love Auburn."'

Bowden did not make clear whether he reported the payment scheme to the NCAA, but said on the tape: "When I came here, I put an end to it."

Bowden's comments were reported Sunday by the Opelika-Auburn News. A columnist taped the comments in a meeting about two years ago, and a copy of the tape was made available to the Associated Press.

Bowden did not return a phone call to his home in Orlando, Fla, seeking comment. He is currently a sports commentator for ABC Sports, where spokesman Adam Freifield said Bowden contended the remarks were off the record and had no further comment.

A statement issued by Auburn questioned why remarks made by Bowden in 2001 are only now being reported. The columnist who taped the comments, Paul Davis, said Tuesday there had been concern that Bowden's remarks were "off the record" and not for publication. Davis said Bowden has sent him an e-mail encouraging their publication.

Bowden had no comment when reached Tuesday night by ESPN.com, where he is a college football analyst.

The school's statement also said Bowden repeatedly had certified to the NCAA from 1993 through 1998 that "he was unaware of any unreported violations of NCAA rules by anyone involved with the Auburn football program."

Even though there is a four-year statute of limitations for NCAA violations, there is an exception if the infraction is considered "blatant". NCAA spokeswoman Kay Hawes wouldn't comment on the specifics of the allegations.

William Muse, who was president of Auburn during Bowden's term as coach, also said in newly released transcripts that he had heard rumors of a pay-for-play scheme but that it was never verified during the NCAA investigation. His comments were transcribed by Auburn history professor Wayne Flynt for a book and were made public recently by university archives.

Mitch Sneed, who became managing editor of the Opelika-Auburn News in February, said Tuesday he decided to publish Bowden's taped remarks after the recent release of the Flynt transcripts, which included Muse saying Bowden told him much the same things that were on the tape.

Muse also said he had heard there was "a network of alums who each had agreed to provide X number of dollars per year for a particular player and that there was a book that listed all of these individuals and the amounts that they paid."

"There was even a rumor that, at one time, (an assistant coach) was the keeper of the book," Muse said. "In fact, after he left Auburn, Terry even told me that. But that has never been verified. In the NCAA investigation, there didn't turn out to be any evidence of that."

Auburn came under NCAA scrutiny when Pat Dye was head coach. Tapes secretly recorded by football player Eric Ramsey disclosed financial and other help being given to Ramsey in violation of NCAA rules.

Dye stepped down after the 1992 season and the NCAA hit Auburn with penalties that included scholarship reductions, two years of probation and a one-year ban on television appearances.

Dye, currently a fund-raiser for Auburn, did not immediately return a telephone message left at his office Tuesday.

Bowden resigned as coach during the 1998 season as his relations with a powerful trustee, Robert Lowder, became strained.

On the tape, Bowden said 25 to 30 boosters would meet in Birmingham and 15 to 20 would meet in Rome, Ga., and that they would give $5,000 each. He said that when he arrived at Auburn, an assistant coach was collecting the money.

On the tape, Bowden said he took a stand against the practice. "I'm going to finish that deal. That's over with," he said he told one of those involved.

Muse, amid his own difficulties with some trustees, left Auburn two years ago to become chancellor of East Carolina. He resigned that post Friday, taking a tenured faculty position, in the wake of two critical internal audits.

Information from The Associated Press was used in this report.