Tuesday, June 2, 2009

Big Cat Weekend

By now, everyone has read about Auburn's Big Cat recruiting weekend.

You know Auburn hosted 20-some of its highest-prioritized recruits. You know the weekend resulted with many of those same recruits excited about Auburn. You also know Auburn possibly committed a few NCAA secondary violations, detailed here yesterday.

Here's what should be considered: If Auburn is guilty of secondary violations, so what?

This isn't the Ivy League where sportsmanship is as important as the results. This is the SEC, where coaches are fired for only winning 152 of his total 204 career games. (See: Fulmer, Phillip -- fired after missing a bowl game for just the second time in 16-plus years).

There aren't long leashes in the SEC. Ask Mike Shula, Ron Zook and Ed Orgeron. Fans want their teams to win. Now.

What does that mean? It means Auburn's coaching staff needs to get enough talent to win and it needs it immediately. Gene Chizik will likely get one free pass in 2009. It would be extremely difficult to fire him after one season. Year two, though, could bring with it a hot seat if the first year goes awry.

So Auburn is hitting the recruiting trail hard, as it has done since most of the coaching staff has arrived. The staff has been innovative and has done something not seen at Auburn in some time -- pushed the envelope.

Most of it -- like the Tiger Prowl -- has been within the rules, though this latest case might require the Tigers to self-report violations.

Consider this, though: If pushing the envelope results in getting three or four prized recruits -- like RBs Lache Seastrunk and Marcus Lattimore and LB Khairi Fortt -- but also ends in the Tigers getting a slap in the wrist for secondary violations, is it worth it?

Auburn made its impression on the recruits. If rules were committed but the NCAA finds no intent, there would be no consequence.

So, let's say, hypothetically, there were infractions. Auburn self-reports itself for two secondary violations. The Tigers also sign four of the visitors on the first week of February. Those four players cost Auburn nothing in terms of penalties. More importantly, perhaps it was Toomer's Corner that persuaded the recruits to come to Auburn.

I'm not sanctioning breaking the rules. I'm just saying if the NCAA had a problem with schools violating these rules it would constitute tougher penalties. Or any penalties. So far, the NCAA hasn't.

Whether or not people agree with Auburn's tactics, it's difficult to argue that the Tigers have put themselves back on the recruiting map in a big way.

Tennessee coach Lane Kiffin was charged with the same task. Since taking the position at Tennessee, the program has self-reported four rules violations. All have been secondary. The Volunteers have not been punished, nor are they likely to receive any punishment.

At the annual SEC coaches' meeting in Destin, Fla., Kiffin told reporters:

"Do I love everything I had to do to get us to this point? No, I don't. But we had to make an immediate impact. We couldn't have sat back in the weeds and hoped we signed a top 10 class in a couple of years.

"I don't think if we took a conservative approach there's no way we would have signed that class and the No. 1 player [running back Bryce Brown] in the country. Kids we're recruiting have responded to the confidence our staff has shown."

Auburn coaches haven't come out with similar comments. Still, the Toomer's Corner rally seems to play into the same approach.

It might technically be against the rules, but if there are no repercussions, does it really matter?

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