Wednesday, March 30, 2011

By Charles Bennett

AUBURN – HBO’s “Real Sports with Bryant Gumbel” won’t air until 9 p.m. but the claims of “pay for play” by former Auburn football players have already ignited a firestorm.

The HBO special highlights four former Auburn football players who say they were paid by boosters, and in once case an unspecified assistant coach. The four are Stanley McClover, Raven Gray, Chaz Ramsey and Troy Reddick.

All four played during Tommy Tuberville’s time as Auburn’s coach.

Former Auburn players Lee Ziemba and Ryan Pugh, who finished their eligibility this past season, don’t believe the claims. The careers of Ziemba and Pugh, both four-year players at Auburn, intersected with those of both Ramsey and Gray.

Ziemba, an All-SEC offensive lineman who started a school-record 54 consecutive games, weighed in with his opinion on Twitter.

“I was recruited by the same folks as the HBO star bums, walked out the same locker room doors as them after games, never a dime,” Ziemba said.

Pugh responded in similar fashion on Twitter.

“We all walked out of the same locker room and had the same coaches, but never had any money given to us,” Pugh said. “It’s a shame what people will say.”

HBO Real Sports reporter Andrea Kremer said Wednesday on Dan Patrick’s syndicated ESPN radio show that the network sought interviews with a lot of different sources, including former head coach Tommy Tuberville, who declined comment.

“We reached out to a number of different coaches, and they declined to speak to us,” Kremer said.

Kremer also said the network was approached by someone who wanted to talk about the recruitment of Cam Newton, the Heisman Trophy-winning quarterback who led the Tigers to this year’s national championship and who has been the subject of a pay for play controversy since October of 2010.

"The day I was getting on the plane they pulled the plug on it,” Kremer said. “HBO does not pay for interviews, and that was one of the issues that came up."

An All-SEC defensive end who played for Auburn from 2003-05, McClover, said he received “money handshakes” from boosters of LSU, Auburn, Ohio State and Michigan State during the recruiting process.

He said he eventually switched his commitment from Ohio State to Auburn after receiving an unspecified amount of money from a booster.

The money was allegedly delivered in a book bag.

“You opened it up, what are you thinking?” Kremer asked, according to a transcript of Wednesday’s HBO special that was published on the website SportsByBrooks.

“I almost passed out,” McClover said. “I literally almost passed out. I couldn’t believe it was true. I felt like I owed them.”

McClover also said he received money after games, including $4,000 after he had a particularly good game against Alabama.

Reddick, an offensive lineman from 2001-04, said he was offered money by an Auburn alum during the recruiting process but did not take it.

Later in his career, he said he was considering leaving the program but was given $500 by a member of the coaching staff to stay, and later received several more payments in similar amounts.

Gray, a defensive lineman who signed with the Tigers in 2008, said he received approximately $3,000 from boosters during his recruitment by Auburn.

An offensive lineman who played for the Tigers in 2007, Ramsey said he was slipped
money from fans after games, usually in amounts of $300 to $400 per game.

“You walk out and all the fans are waiting for you to sign autographs and everything and some random guy just walks up to you and shakes your hand and there’s a wad full of money,” he said.

Ramsey also said he also made anywhere from $5,000 to $6,000 by selling game tickets supplied by the school. Receiving a ticket allotment from the school is approved by the NCAA. Reselling them is not.

Later, Ramsey filed a lawsuit against the school over the school’s diagnosis and treatment of a back injury that ended his career. The lawsuit was dismissed, but an appeal is pending.

“I’m not out to get anybody,” he said. “I want high school athletes to know what they’re getting into. This is what college football is really about. It’s a business.”

The NCAA’s four-year statute of limitations may render moot the allegations of McClover and Reddick, although could be included in an NCAA investigation if the NCAA determines an ongoing pattern of abuse of the rules.

Auburn officials have declined comment but issued the following statement to HBO.

“Auburn athletics respectfully declines comment on these alleged claims apparently made by a few former football players. Compliance with all NCAA and Southeastern conference rules is a major emphasis and top priority for all our athletic programs at Auburn University.”

No comments: