Roberts’ narrative, “Auburn’s Tainted Title: Victims, Violations and Vendettas for Glory,” was published Wednesday on her web site, Roopstigo.com. Roberts is a former Sports Illustrated and New York Times reporter, as well as an Auburn graduate who in 2005 reported Auburn team chaplain Chette Williams was paid by school boosters.
Her latest report accused the program of many wrongdoings under Chizik’s watch from 2009-2012, including and not limited to the school bullying counselors into fixing transcripts to keep football players academically eligible for the 2011 BCS National Championship Game, former coaches offering and giving players money both for personal use and entertainment for hosting recruits, and forcing Auburn city police to mislead parents of players charged with armed robbery in March 2011.
About 24 hours after the report’s publication, Chizik’s agents, Russ Campbell and Patrick Strong of Balch Sports, sent media outlets a six-paragraph response from Chizik, who still lives in Auburn since his firing Nov. 25 following a 3-9 season.
“Ms. Roberts’ story is long on accusation and inference, but short on facts and logic,” Chizik wrote in the statement. “The statements are very generalized accusations devoid of substance. During my time as Auburn’s head coach, I never authorized, instructed or directed anyone to change any player’s grade or provide any type of illegal payment by any member of my coaching staff, support staff or anyone else.”
Chizik’s statement begins by referring to a previous NCAA multi-year investigation into the recruitment of Heisman Trophy-winning quarterback Cam Newton, of which the NCAA found no violations for alleged pay-for-play schemes involving Newton.
“Unfortunately, the recent story published by Selena Roberts is more of the same,” Chizik said. “It once again portrays Auburn University, current and former coaches, professors, fans, supporters and community officials in a false light.”
Chizik sticks up for the Auburn police department, which Roberts alleged had kept certain details hidden from the family of former safety Mike McNeil the day Chizik kicked him off the team for robbery charges. McNeil’s trial was scheduled for next week, before his attorney filed to withdraw from the case Wednesday.
“I remain part of the Auburn family and take these attacks on myself, the University and community seriously,” Chizik said. “During my time at Auburn, the administrators, professors and academic staff were of the highest integrity. Additionally, the inference that there was academic support staff that worked together with professors to change grades is absurd.”
Former defensive coordinator Will Muschamp was accused in the story of giving McNeil $400 following a team practice. The story indicated Florida denied the payment, and a Florida spokesman reiterated the denial when contacted Wednesday.
“If there is a sad truth here, it is that there is no repercussions for bloggers who blast out widespread, venomous allegations and inferences in such an irresponsible manner. To make bold and outrageous conclusions on such thin support is a travesty,” Chizik said.
The statement concluded: “During my tenure as Auburn’s head coach, we kept the well-being of our student-athletes at the forefront of every decision. We ran our program with the highest level of integrity and accountability. Period. I make absolutely no apologies for that … As I stated during the NCAA investigation, I am comforted knowing that the truth always prevails.”
The NCAA has declined comment regarding any potential investigations stemming from the reporting of Roberts, who on ESPN and radio appearances stand behind her story.
Aaron Brenner covers Auburn for the Columbus (Ga.) Ledger-Enquirer and the Anniston Star. He can be reached at email@example.com or on Twitter @wareagleextra.