Opinion: All the Speaker’s men and the collapse of Auburn Athletics

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By John Sophocleus*

Revealing Wall Street Journal articles (11/11/14 and 8/27/15) report a local contractor with connections to athletic director Jay Jacobs somehow acquired large quantities of football tickets to high demand games – including the 2013 Iron Bowl.  Those not blinded ‘blue and orange’ understand this exacerbates the troublesome fact AU athletics ran a 2013 deficit of nearly $1 million despite team success. The WSJ exposed top administrator (again including AD Jacobs) interference in academic decisions.  External review, department faculty, two university committees, and every relevant academic administrator supported closing a program ‘clustering’ athletes – including many elite football players. Top athletic administrators proactively and aggressively intervened, even offering to pay faculty salary in this specific program to retain it.  Local articles followed recent WSJ reports; most notable and more alarming was the Montgomery Advertiser (10/5/15) ticket scandal article.
Disappointing football team performance this past year is also revealing.  Marred by record-setting poor defense the second half of last season prompted immediate firing of the “lowest man on the relevant totem pole” – i.e., defensive coordinator.  Never Fear Loyal Subsidized Sports Fans: enormous sums to install another coordinator (boasting the highest paid assistant coach to match the Jumbo-tron) will mend everything as athletic administrators shamelessly shilled Auburn to #6 in AP rankings kicking off the season.  Effective enough to push Jeremy Johnson’s name into pre-season Heisman banter, this talk seems foolhardy in retrospect as continued defensive woes combined with breathtaking collapse of offense abruptly ended SEC title hopes or play-off berth.
In reward for shelling out huge sums, results were sobering.  As AD Jacobs promised, the gameday experiences Auburn deserved followed; stunned silence from the Jacksonville State debacle communicated fan appreciation of Jacobs’ stewardship.  One rarely observes such profound drop in ranking after ‘victory.’  Consecutive humiliations from SEC rivals LSU and Mississippi State confirmed troubles.  LSU was over by halftime and AU offense didn’t score a single touchdown at home against MSU.  Top brass response to this epic collapse of football? – immediately after MSU’s drubbing – Jacobs fired the baseball coach.
Ticket scandals exposed by media and poor football performance aren’t the only indicators of collapse.  More disturbing legal developments related to AU athletics have become public.  House Speaker Hubbard (R – Auburn) who learned/started his path in AU athletics has desperately impeded a speedy trial in Lee County for his 23 felony indictments.  Some recall Buddy Mitchell’s affidavit explaining how Hubbard unethically acquired AU broadcast contracts.  Hubbard’s tenth charge reveals communication between Hubbard and top AU athletics administrators.  Prosecutors filed evidence showing exchanges between Hubbard, Jacobs, and senior associate athletic director Rich McGlynn.  Hubbard solicited Jacob’s help to set up a meeting for one of his “consulting” clients (Edgenuity, Inc.) with a high-ranking NCAA official since Hubbard had no such connections at the NCAA.  Jacobs emailed Hubbard indicating McGlynn’s working on it for him.  McGlynn is Auburn’s director for compliance; both he and Jacobs are considered State employees.  Other e-mails displayed Hubbard’s pattern of abusing his mantle of power to use State employees (including President Gogue) to promote wealth transfers to himself or his specific interest over the general welfare of citizens/taxpayers.
Days after the Montgomery Advertiser further exposed football ticket scandal facts, whistleblower Matt Davis filed a federal lawsuit against top university/athletics officials.  President Gogue (plaintiff’s spelling ‘Gouge’ [sic] for irony aficionados) AD Jacobs, associate athletic directors Rich McGlynn and David Benedict are named defendants.  Executive director of Auburn’s internal auditing office, Kevin Robinson is also a named defendant.  In short, Davis, who directed Tigers Unlimited priority seating program, claimed thousands of tickets within the donors’ area were held back from purchase by donors; these tickets were instead being sold without required donations to Tigers Unlimited.  Initial AU denials of Davis’ claims notwithstanding, the Advertiser reported, “a senior member of the athletic department, who agreed to speak only if their name was not used, said Auburn has intentionally prevented thousands of tickets in donor sections from being sold to Tigers Unlimited donors essentially in order to circumvent the university’s loyalty pledge.”
Surely top university and athletics officials wouldn’t retaliate against employees who speak out against corruption, dishonesty and incompetence to attenuate greater harm … but, yet again, AU reportedly used tactics of intimidation, phony investigations/evaluations and ultimately termination.  Little surprise the lawsuit states McGlynn was officially present delivering Davis’ termination letter; same Rich McGlynn who apparently was used by AD Jacobs to get results for Hubbard with the NCAA.
Troubles are further highlighted by ‘following the money.’  The new budget year (effective Oct. 1) provides measure of raises upon comparing September to October salary files published on AU’s budget website.  The largest dollar raise published appears to be Jacobs at $51,900.  Historical salary files show this amount exceeds the sum of all his raises the previous three years COMBINED.  Last $52k raise I’ve observed published went to a CoB administrator – oddly enough the Speaker’s neighbor.  Similarly, the highest ranking administrator with authority over athletics (President Gogue) also did very well for himself, landing a $40,100 salary increase. Again, oddly enough, EVERY named defendant in Davis’ lawsuit did very well this year. Gogue, Jacobs and McGlynn all show 8 percent pay increases, the maximum merit raise one may receive without special justification.  David Benedict’s salary increased 7 percent; auditor Kevin Robinson’s increased over 21 percent!
Seems the quickest way to riches at AU is athletics troubles – data shows it pays very well. AU’s BoT only approved a 3 percent merit raise pool.  Indeed, executive associate athletic director Tim Jackson (NOT a named defendant) shows a salary increase of only three percent.  Meanwhile, (nonathletic) faculty who distinguish themselves in POSITIVE ways didn’t even earn three percent.  A glaring example is recent AU website front page feature for cutting-edge marketing research Professor Brian Bourdeau; he was the first faculty member President Gogue singled out for praise at this Fall’s General Faculty Meeting.  Salary files show Prof. Bourdeau’s raise was only $2,330 (two percent).  Director Jacob’s raise was over twenty times larger in dollar terms and four times larger in percentage terms.  Rather than hard work bringing positive attention to AU’s research mission, imagine how much better professors could do devoting efforts toward ruining AU athletics. I long for the days coaches refused pay exceeding the highest earning Professor on faculty – one may safely type we’ll never observe such honor, sagacity and self-restraint from current university administrators.
* Mr. Sophocleus is a columnist for the Alabama Gazette where this was first published November 2015 in its entirety http://www.alabamagazette.com/cms_data/dfault/photos/stories/id/9/2/592/4513158.pdf#page=5.

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