A Word of Caution on the HBO Special

With the heavily discussed HBO special set to air on March 30th, I wanted to take a moment for a word of caution moving forward. More than a few have seemingly gotten a bit carried away with the possibility of "bombshell" allegations against Auburn, but those expecting that at this point may be a bit premature. There is no real confirmation of that, and to the contrary it looks possible that this special will have a more general focus, and may even include allegations made by former Alabama player Chris Keys against the Crimson Tide.

In terms of substantive allegations, the only definite expectation for now is that former Auburn defensive end Stanley McClover will allege that he was paid in some way as a result of his status as an Auburn football player, whether that be a payment as an inducement to sign or multiple ongoing payments while he was at Auburn (or both). Likewise, he is also expected to allege that the payment(s) came at least in part from an assistant on the Auburn coaching staff. That coach has been rumored to be Eddie Gran, the man who played a key role in recruiting McClover out of Florida and who spent fourteen years with Tommy Tuberville as running backs and special teams coach, but there has been no confirmation on that to date and that may turn out to be incorrect.

The legitimacy of those allegations notwithstanding -- and temporarily putting aside the possibility that McClover was paid by HBO producers to appear on the show -- the real issue here is going to be whether or not McClover can substantiate any of these allegations with any credible evidence. If he can do that in any way -- whether  it be bank records, audio recordings, witnesses, etc. -- then there may be something meaningful moving forward. If it's just McClover's word and nothing more, however, it's hard to see much of anything coming of this.

Keep in mind that the explosive aspect of the Eric Ramsey scandal was not merely that a standout player made pay-for-play allegations against his alma mater. What made the Ramsey scandal so damning was the fact that Ramsey was able to corroborate his allegations with over 70 authentic audio recordings that directly incriminated all of the key players in the pay-for-play scheme, all the way from Pat Dye to Corky Frost. Had Ramsey merely gone public with his word and his word alone, the fallout from his allegations and the subsequent sanctions wouldn't have been nearly as great.

I say that to say this: Unless McClover alleges that Gene Chizik himself paid him, and / or unless he can corroborate his pay-for-play allegations with some sort of independent evidence, I don't see anything to get overly excited about. And if the McClover allegation is indeed the much-ballyhooed "bombshell"  that the HBO special is supposedly going to reveal, consider me unimpressed.

And on that note, you can probably give the same treatment to the possibility of Chris Keys making similar allegations against Alabama. Keys making allegations isn't exactly news. He was widely believed to be talking to anyone who would listen about Alabama's supposed improprieties after Mike Shula kicked him off the team in June of 2006. I wouldn't be surprised in the least if he made some allegations, but I feel confident in saying that there is nothing that he would say that was not vetted by UA compliance many years ago and dismissed as baseless. If I may speculate for a moment, I imagine he could not independently support his allegations, and given his checkered past -- kicked off of his high school team in Louisiana, suspended for his senior season in Alabama by the AHSAA, his fight with Ali Sharrief, his dismissal by Mike Shula, etc -- there was no reason to give his word any real weight.

Besides, apply a bit of common sense here, during this time frame neither Alabama or Auburn was exactly setting the recruiting trails on fire. Several top in-state players left the state -- see JaMarcus Russell, Chad Jackson, and others -- and in general both schools had middle-of-the-road recruiting classes well below the hauls that LSU, Florida, Georgia, and Tennessee produced. Common sense ought to tell you that if there were any real violations occurring in Tuscaloosa and Auburn, it wasn't anything that wasn't part and parcel of rest of the recruiting landscape.

In any event, all of the high talk about "bombshells" is nice for the true believers, but if this piece ultimately boils down to a few former SEC players making allegations unsupported by any independent evidence, then this is really little more than heavily publicized hot air. Finding former players willing to air some dirty laundry isn't exactly the most difficult thing, and in fact I'd venture to say that it's a relatively easy find to some disgruntled former players willing to speak publicly. Finding former players who can substantiate their claims, however, is a much more difficult task, and unless that is done in this case, it's hard to see this little exposé ever becoming much more than a one-night ratings boom for HBO.

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