Last week brought new allegations hurled at the Auburn football program.
An article by Selena Roberts of roopstigo.com was published on Wednesday titled "Auburn's Tainted Title: Victims, Violations and Vendettas" and an E:60 piece on "the darker side of Auburn football" written by Shaun Assael became the latest in two years worth of accusations thrown at the tradition-rich Auburn program.
In a timeline that began with the allegations of pay-for-play allegations against Heisman Trophy winner Cam Newton in November of 2011, the last two years have seen the names Auburn and NCAA tied closely together.
From audio tapes to a bagman, there has yet to be one shred of evidence that has appeared in any of the recent accusations. Despite that fact, Auburn will likely be forever guilty in what might be the most important courtroom: the court of public opinion.
All of the accusations that have been hurled Auburn's way over the past two years have shined a very negative light onto the Auburn football program. The recent stories have developed a perception among the college football landscape that Auburn is among the dirtiest programs in all of college football.
Perception is not always reality.
The Auburn program does have its demons from the past, which may play into the perception.
According to the Legislative Services Database of the NCAA, the Auburn football program has committed five major infractions since the NCAA's committee on infractions was formed in 1954. However, it has not faced the committee since 1993. Since that time, 10 other teams currently in the SEC have gone on probation. Some more than once.
Auburn's response to Roberts' and Assael's story was interesting. It took a different path than it did in 2010, when mum was the word around the Auburn athletic complex.
This time, Auburn was quick to offer a rebuttal to many of the key facts that these two articles based their premise around. Statements were given from former head coach Gene Chizik and athletics director Jay Jacobs.
"Unfortunately, Ms. Roberts' story is long on accusations and inference, but short on facts and logic," Chizik said in his statement (h/t Joel A. Erickson, al.com). Jacobs' statement was similar (h/t AuburnTigers.com). "After a thorough internal review, the Auburn Athletics Department believes many of the allegations made by the individuals interviewed for this story are baseless and inaccurate."
The athletics department has also set up a website that information-driven people can visit. It links directly to the statement and key facts missing in both reports.
So ESPN spent six months on an investigative report that Auburn picked completely apart in 24 hours.— Barrett Sallee (@BarrettSallee) April 6, 2013
Other news outlets, such as USA Today and al.com, ripped Roberts' and Assael's article to shreds with missing facts and actual documents such as phone records proving some of the article's key facts wrong.
For example (via Joel Erickson, al.com):
ESPN's original story indicated that Auburn did not communicate with the parents of Mosley and Kitchens, an assertion Jacobs disputed in his open letter and backed up by phone records released to AL.com Friday. Thirty calls were made from Auburn's coaching staff to Kimberly Harkness (mother of Shaun Kitchens) between May 1, 2010 and March 22, 2011, and more than 100 calls from Auburn's coaching staff to Harrison Mosley (father of Dakota Moseley) between May 1, 2010 and May 31, 2011.
The articles by Roberts and Assael were being written based on accusations from former players that were kicked off of the Auburn team for committing armed robbery. It's more likely that these men have an axe to grind than anything else.
Jack Smith, Auburn's director of strategic communication, called Roberts' story, "gotcha, hide-the-ball journalism at its worst."
Still, the Birmingham, Ala. airwaves last week were full of callers eager to chime in on the subject of Auburn's supposedly dirty tactics off of the football field. Many of the callers prefaced their points by saying something along the lines of, "We all know that Auburn [insert allegation of choice here]."
Do we all know?
If we're dealing in facts, what we know is that Auburn survived an 18-month NCAA investigation into the football program without suffering a scratch in 2011.
We also know that documents show that Auburn was aggressive in its attempts to stem the use of synthetic marijuana among its athletes and was among the first SEC schools to implement a test for the substance, which was legal at the time the activities took place.
Is Auburn squeaky clean? Absolutely not. If you believe that, then you are just as guilty as the people who jump to the conclusion that Auburn is the dirtiest program this country has seen since the "Pony Express" at SMU or Jimmy Johnson's Miami Hurricanes teams.
With that said, Auburn is not doing anything dirtier than any other major college program.
It's a harsh reality of life that people will hear what they want to hear and believe what they want to believe in the college football-hungry southeastern United States, and more specifically, in the state of Alabama; especially if the subject is about the Auburn football program cheating.
If the facts or evidence doesn't fit an argument, they are disregarded like yesterday's newspaper.
Because of that, unless your battle cry is "War Eagle!" you likely believe that these latest allegations will be the end of Auburn's time running completely amiss of the NCAA rulebook.
If I could give a piece of advice, don't try to convince them otherwise.
It would be a waste of time and breath. Because in the court of public opinion, Auburn will never stand a chance.