N.C.A.A. Inquiry of Auburn Isn’t Over, Exchange Reveals
By PETE THAMEL
Published: July 13, 2011
NORTH AUGUSTA, S.C. — Last month, when athletic officials from the Southeastern Conference met in Destin, Fla., the annual gathering had an eye-popping moment.
Chuck Burton/Associated Press
Julie Roe Lach, the N.C.A.A.’s vice president for enforcement, made a presentation to the group, which included every men’s basketball coach, football coach and athletic director in the conference. When she opened up the room for discussion, Auburn’s football coach, Gene Chizik, raised his hand first.
He peppered Roe Lach with a flurry of questions about the N.C.A.A.’s investigation into Cam Newton and why the N.C.A.A. had not publicly announced that the investigation was over. Chizik complained that the inquiry’s open-ended nature had hurt Auburn’s recruiting and he followed up at least three times, leading to a testy exchange.
“You’ll know when we’re finished,” Roe Lach told Chizik, according to several coaches who were at the meeting. “And we’re not finished.”
The N.C.A.A. has a consistent policy of not commenting on investigations, and the tense back and forth between Roe Lach and Chizik offered rare insight into one of the most contentious cases in recent N.C.A.A. history.
Both the N.C.A.A. and Auburn acknowledged last year that Newton’s father, Cecil, had offered his son’s services to Mississippi State for $180,000. Cam Newton told the N.C.A.A. that he had no knowledge of the proposed transaction. Soon after, in a controversial decision, the N.C.A.A. declared him eligible to play the rest of the season. He went on to lead Auburn to the national title and win the Heisman Trophy. He now awaits his new role as quarterback for the Carolina Panthers.
Auburn, the N.C.A.A. and the SEC declined comment on the exchange at the SEC gathering.
While Chizik has repeatedly said that he and Auburn did not break any rules in recruiting Newton, Roe Lach made it clear that the N.C.A.A. is not done investigating.
“Obviously, I think that she was serious, and I obviously thought it was a good message, because you could tell that she and they are serious about what they’re doing and trying to do what they have to do to clean up some of the bad elements in college athletics,” said Vanderbilt Coach Kevin Stallings, one of four SEC basketball coaches who confirmed the exchange.
The exchange between Chizik and Roe Lach provided another example of the N.C.A.A.’s more vigorous emphasis on enforcement. The N.C.A.A. has increased and restructured its enforcement staff recently in an attempt to better handle its caseload.
“It was obvious they were trying to be thorough,” said Stallings, who was with other basketball coaches at a recruiting event. “It was obvious they wanted everyone to know that there’s a more diligent pursuit than there’s been in the past. The staff is bigger and more aggressive. I thought that her message was a good one.”
Arkansas’s basketball coach, Mike Anderson, said there was a visceral reaction in the room to Chizik’s questioning, with coaches shrugging their shoulders and looking perplexed.
Mississippi’s basketball coach, Andy Kennedy, said that he believed Chizik “was trying to get some finality to when the process was over, and it was an interesting debate, to say the least.”
“I think the format of the meeting was set up to be generally about the lay of the land going forward,” Kennedy continued. “When he got into specific questions regarding their situation, I think we were all sitting back saying, ‘I didn’t know that we were going here.’ ”
Kennedy said Roe Lach gave general answers at first, but Chizik’s persistence forced her into a bigger statement — that the N.C.A.A. was still investigating Auburn.
“I’m not sure she wanted it to be that way,” Kennedy said. “I’m speculating, but it seemed like a situation where she was like, ‘Do I go left or do I go right here?’ ”
Scandals have defined college sports in the last calendar year, from the North Carolina agent investigation to the Newton situation and recent problems at Ohio State and Oregon. Along with those recent cases, Southern California’s 2004 national championship was vacated.
Coaches say they see a tangible push from the N.C.A.A. to fight back. “The message that the N.C.A.A. is sending is, ‘Enough already,’ ” L.S.U.’s basketball coach, Trent Johnson, said.