The University of Auburn, in a preemptive move designed to minimize the distractions around the basketball program of first-year head coach Tony Barbee, have announced that they are vacating the results from their breakthrough season of 1983-'84, when the team went to the NCAA Tournament for the first time in school history.
"This is particularly painful for me, as I was close to beginning my career at Auburn in 1984," said a crestfallen Auburn athletic director, Jay Jacobs.
"After decades of futility, the Auburn Tigers had finally reached the NCAA Tournament. However, I am on record as saying that our goal is to make Auburn athletics the preeminent athletics department in the nation. And that means doing things by the rules. Thus, we are left with no choice but to forfeit our victories from 1984 and have our NCAA Tournament appearance erased.
We are removing all references to any accomplishments and records from that season in our media guide and any other university disseminated material."
When asked why this unprecedented move was being made some 26 years after the fact, Jacobs replied, "Our investigation has uncovered incontrovertible evidence that one of our student-athletes accepted money from a professional agent during his basketball career here at the Plains. Due to federal privacy statutes, we are unable to reveal the student-athlete's name at this time."
However, anyone not living under a rock knows that the basketball player is none other than NBA Hall of Famer, "Sir" Charles Barkley.
Barkley was the SEC Player of the Year in 1984, and a consensus All-American and national Player of the Year, as well.
After his stellar junior campaign, when he averaged 15.1 points, 9.5 rebounds, and 2.1 assists per game, while shooting a stunning 63.8 percent from the floor, in just 28.4 minutes per contest, he jumped to the NBA with the Philadelphia 76ers, being named to the NBA All-Rookie team after the 1984-'85 season.
Barkley went on to a star-studded career, being named one of the 50 Greatest NBA Players of All-Time, playing on and winning gold medals with two so-called Dream Teams, retiring as only the fourth man (Kevin Garnett has since become the fifth) with 20,000 points, 10,000 rebounds, and 4,000 assists for his career and in 2006 was named to the Naismith Memorial Basketball Hall of Fame.
All of these accomplishments have now been tainted by his unabashed admissions that he accepted loans from a player agent during his college basketball career.
Barkley, in an interview Friday morning with media mogul Dan Patrick, was unapologetic in detailing the "chump change" he accepted from agents while he was still at Auburn, saying that he paid it back after he signed with the 76ers.
"If a guy wants to borrow money from an agent because he's poor, what is wrong with that?" Barkley said on the air.
"Nobody can tell me what is wrong with that. I got money from agents when I was in college and I went in the '80s. Most of the players I know borrowed money from agents. The colleges don't give us anything. If they give us a pair of sneakers, they get in trouble. Why can't an agent lend me some money and I'll pay him back when I graduate?"
Barkley insists that this is neither breaking news nor particularly worthy of note.
"They've been giving money to college kids for years."
Barkley has dropped hints for years that he was receiving money during his college days; this open admission just blows the lid off the entire affair.
Barkley further asserts that Reggie Bush, who is returning his Heisman Trophy in football, did nothing wrong.
"I'm disappointed Reggie is giving the Heisman back because these colleges are making so much money off these kids," Barkley said. "Reggie made one mistake. He should have paid those [agents] back and this whole thing never would have happened."
His views did not mesh with Jacobs', who veritably bristled when this reporter began reading excerpts from Barkley's quotes at the national press conference.
"I already know what he said, young man," he spat, interrupting me in mid-sentence. "And Mr. Barkley is entitled to his own opinion. However, the fact of the matter is that his actions, and now his brazen admission and flouting of said actions, leave Auburn University basketball in an untenable position. . ."
Jacobs paused as he leaned over and listened to Jon G. Waggoner, Esq., Auburn University Counsel, speaking in hushed tones. Jacobs then spoke back into the bank of microphones:
"We have no further comment at this time and will accept no further questions on this matter. Good day."
Barkley was his usual irascible self when we contacted him by telephone just minutes later. He was a font of mixed metaphors yet nevertheless made his point patently clear.
"Look, like I told Dan Patrick, these kids can't take anything from the schools," he began in an animated tone. "It's like modern-day slavery. Or if you prefer, the schools are pimps, the athletes are their whores. The NCAA is sitting on a golden goose that pumps out solid gold eggs 24/7 but has to eat chicken scratch. It's despicable.
"I don't think I did anything wrong, I don't think Reggie Bush did anything wrong, and any punk who wants to say otherwise needs to come see me so I can bitch-slap some sense into his ass. I paid my money back, Reggie could have and should have, too, that's the only thing I see that anybody can really say. Other than that, shut ya damned mouth!"
Chuck Person, Barkley's teammate from that 1984 NCAA Tournament team, was far more reserved than his colorful former teammate.
"Well, some of what he's saying is just Charles being Charles," Person began with a laugh. "He's forgotten more about media relations than I will ever know, but I do realize that sometimes he jumps on things to keep himself in the public consciousness.
"But he makes a good point when he talks about how the student-athletes are being pimped out by the NCAA institutions. When you really look at it, it's hard to argue with him."
Person declined to comment on having his—and the school's—first NCAA appearance wiped from the record books.
Incoming NCAA President Mark Emmert, the fifth executive in charge of the venerable organization, finds himself walking into a multiple front buzz saw, with growing member dissatisfaction with BCS alignment and structure, and now this. In a moment of refreshing levity, he intimated that it was all a bit overwhelming.
"Look guys, I didn't sign on for this, controversy over something that happened when I had just completed my Ph.D. studies at Syracuse," he said with a chuckle. He grew more serious as he continued, however.
"I would imagine that you want to know if the NCAA will pursue an investigation and look into possible penalties in the Auburn case," he intoned. "And the answer to that is yet to be determined. Auburn University obviously thought the matter was serious enough for them to self-impose punishment for the infractions.
"As has been established before, and illustrated in the high-profile cases of the Universities of Memphis and Southern California recently, the NCAA adheres to a policy of strict-liability.
"Once a student-athlete is found to be ineligible, and a member institution has nonetheless allowed said SA to participate in varsity sports, then the NCAA must act swiftly and without mercy.
"We must send the unequivocal message that rules must be followed as gospel, not merely as convenient suggestions. And as for a statute of limitations, we do not feel that one exists for blatant violations of our regulations. It is never too late to right a wrong.
"We will consider the particulars of this case and decide if further sanctions are necessary upon Auburn University basketball.
"Though it may seem harsh and unfair to the current coaching staff, we feel the effects on the rest of our member institutions, particularly those which steadfastly follow our rules, would be far more deleterious if we did not act."
As we were going to press with this article, we were surprised to receive a phone call from Barkley.
“And tell the President of the NCAA if he thinks I’m sending back any of my Player of the Year memorabilia, he can kiss my red ass!”
More details will be reported as this sordid situation develops further.