MONTGOMERY, Ala. — Auburn will investigate claims by four former football players, who told HBO’s “Real Sports with Bryant Gumbel” they received thousands of dollars while being recruited by or playing for the Tigers.
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Stanley McClover, Troy Reddick, Chaz Ramsey and Raven Gray told HBO for an episode that aired Wednesday night that they received cash payments – in book bags, envelopes and even handshakes. Ramsey played at Auburn most recently, in the 2007 season.
Coach Gene Chizik dismissed the report as “pure garbage.”
Chizik, Auburn’s defensive coordinator from 2002-04 during the careers of McClover and Reddick, said Wednesday night he had no knowledge of the alleged payments, “and I don’t have my head in the sand.”
“What’s disturbing to me is that they interviewed other former Auburn football players who had exactly the opposite to say but somehow or another that failed to make the air, unless I missed that section,” Chizik said. “So I’ve got other former players that are calling me who are still playing and who are great players who had absolutely no knowledge of any of that stuff.
“So it saddens me that somebody is going to air a show with basically one side being known. I think that’s pathetic. And I think it’s pure garbage.”
He said HBO did not attempt to contact him for comment.
Athletic director Jay Jacobs said the university will investigate.
“While HBO confirmed to us they have no proof that any of these claims are true, we contacted both the NCAA and Southeastern Conference as soon as these allegations surfaced,” Jacobs said in a statement released Wednesday night. “We have engaged outside counsel to investigate this matter and will spare no resources to find the truth.”
University President Jay Gogue said he is confident Jacobs and his department “will investigate these allegations thoroughly and completely.”
Tommy Tuberville, Auburn’s coach during the recruitment of all four players, declined comment Wednesday. He is now the head coach at Texas Tech.
McClover said he “felt totally obligated” to play for the Tigers after getting money – he wasn’t sure how much – in a book bag.
“I almost passed out. I literally almost passed out, I couldn’t believe it was true,” the former defensive end told HBO. “I felt like I owed them.”
McClover said he later received $7,000 from an unidentified Auburn booster for a 1973 Chevrolet Impala and would get sacks of money, typically $300 or $400, after games. He said he got four bags totaling $4,000 after logging four sacks against rival Alabama in 2004, when he was a first-team All-Southeastern Conference player.
The Associated Press reviewed an advance copy of the hour-long program. Efforts to reach the four former players were unsuccessful.
Auburn has been dealing with NCAA issues and allegations for months now, and Chizik once again finds himself defending his program.
“That’s not what we stand for,” he said. “That’s not how this program is going to be run.”
Chizik added, “I know in my heart of hearts that we’re doing things the right way here at Auburn.”
The NCAA has been investigating the recruitment of Heisman Trophy winner Cam Newton, who led the Tigers to the 2010 national title in his lone season. Newton’s father, Cecil, has admitted to soliciting money from Mississippi State during the recruiting process but said neither the player nor Auburn knew about his pay-for-play attempt.
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Former Auburn defensive end Quentin Groves said he was never aware of McClover or any other teammates receiving improper payments.
“I just think it was totally and utterly ridiculous to go and say something like that about the school that gave you so much and then be mad because of selfish reasons,” Groves, who is now a Raiders linebacker, told AP in a phone interview Wednesday.
Groves said HBO contacted him and at least nine other former Auburn players for the report. He said he was never paid while at Auburn.
McClover’s 2004 teammate Junior Rosegreen, who also went to Dillard High School in Fort Lauderdale, Fla., said McClover bought the car with money from a Pell Grant and that it didn’t cost $7,000.
“That is bogus,” said Rosegreen, who called McClover “a damn storyteller.”
McClover, who spent two years at Auburn before turning pro after the 2005 season, also said he received cash during “money handshakes” with LSU and Michigan State and received sexual favors during a visit to Ohio State.
The Southeastern Conference said in a statement that representatives from Auburn, LSU and the SEC “have communicated with the NCAA Enforcement Staff” about the report.
“The involved institutions and the NCAA staff will pursue the allegations in a timely manner,” the league said.
In a statement, Michigan State spokesman John Lewandowski said, “Our compliance office was never alerted to this alleged handshake.”
Ohio State spokeswoman Shelly Poe said the school had no comment because the “the report is so far back and so many years ago and he’s just coming forward with it.” She said the incident described would have violated “our policies in the NCAA.”
Joe Alleva, LSU’s vice chancellor and athletic director, said the school would not comment but added that LSU “vigorously enforces NCAA and SEC rules and we work diligently to educate boosters on NCAA rules compliance.”
Lee Ziemba, a starter at left tackle on last season’s national championship team, tweeted Tuesday night that the story was a “couple former players lying to bring our past season down. Keep dreaming fellas.”
Reddick, an Auburn offensive lineman from 2002-05, said he initially turned down “a large sum of money” offered “by a representative of a local alumni.” He said Auburn later urged him to change his major so classes didn’t interfere with football and that when he was unhappy and threatened to leave, an unidentified coach asked him to come up to his office for “some mail.”
“I followed him up to his office and he gave me an envelope,” Reddick told HBO. He said it contained “about like $500″ and that he received two or three more payments that season and six or seven as a senior.
Reddick also said he sold his Southeastern Conference championship watch right after a celebration following the 2004 season to help his sister avoid foreclosure on her home.
Gray, who missed the 2008 season with a knee injury and never played for the Tigers, said he received $2,500 to $3,000 from what he described as an Auburn representative when he was being recruited out of junior college. “This man’s giving me money, I’m going to be loyal to him and go to Auburn,” Gray said.
Ramsey said he was paid $5,000 to $6,000 while at Auburn.
“You walk out (after games) and all the fans are waiting for (players) to sign autographs and some random guy just walks up to you and shakes your hand and it’s a wad full of money,” said Ramsey, adding that he was given $300 or $400 a game.
Ramsey had a career-ending back injury following the 2007 season and later filed suit against Auburn’s then-head athletic trainer saying that an aggressive rehabilitation program worsened the problem. He lost the suit and is appealing, according to The Birmingham News.