Lawyers familiar with NCAA weigh in on report

Auburn is in the NCAA crosshairs once again, after an HBO “Real Sports with Bryant Gumbel” special featuring four former Tigers who claim they were paid while attending Auburn aired Wednesday night.

Tigers Athletic Director Jay Jacobs and the SEC released separate statements Wednesday saying Auburn has been in contact with the NCAA enforcement staff since it first became aware of the allegations.

The claims from two players — offensive lineman Chaz Ramsey and defensive lineman Raven Gray — fall within the range of the NCAA’s four-year statute of limitations for infractions violations.

The other two players — offensive lineman Troy Reddick and defensive lineman Stanley McClover — made statements of transgressions that occurred outside the statute.

“If the enforcement staff can determine there’s a pattern of willful intent to violate the rules, they then go beyond that statute of limitations,” said Michael Buckner, an attorney from Pompano Beach, Fla., that specializes in NCAA enforcement cases. “It doesn’t happen often. But I would be surprised if the enforcement staff did not at least look into those allegations, even if they did occur beyond the four-year statute of limitations.”

Buckner was part of such a case, when he helped represent Alabama State in an infractions case that extended well beyond the statute of limitations.

But Buckner said that, as the alleged transgressions get further away from the statute, they become more difficult to prove.

“People’s memories fade away, evidence gets destroyed — I’m not saying intentionally — but people throw things away, people move away, you lose track of other pieces of evidence,” Buckner said. “It begins to be much more difficult to prove those allegations.”

Jacobs, in his statement, said HBO confirmed to Auburn “they have no proof that any of these claims are true.”

Birmingham-based attorney Mike Ermert said the burden of proof for the NCAA is a “reasonableness standard: Is there sufficient evidence that a reasonable person would suspect that the allegations are true?”

Ermert, an Alabama graduate who represented Alabama in a case against the NCAA in 1994, said that will have to include more than spoken testimony.

“A lot of infractions cases, there is evidence that is not dependent on the testimony of the parties,” Ermert said. “There’s documentary evidence of financial records, phone records, audio tapes, et cetera, that can provide evidence that goes beyond just one person’s word against the other. I think the NCAA tries to find evidence that supports evidence beyond just a statement from a single individual.

“The troubling thing for Auburn is this is not just a single former player. It’s four different players over a period of years. At some point, you’ve got to wonder why these different players come out and make these types of allegations, and face the public scrutiny they will endure if, in fact, these allegations are not true.”

Buckner said the infractions committee could be proceeding with “more deliberate speed” because Auburn’s alleged dirty laundry is being aired so publicly.

But Ermert said every case has its own timeline, and the Auburn one could have mitigating factors, such as the fact that former players and coaches are no longer required to cooperate with investigations if they’re no longer affiliated with NCAA institutions.

“The biggest concern for Auburn has to be if a pattern of evidence develops that traces back from today to the timeframe when some of these players competed, and could create a pretty good body of evidence that would be very difficult for Auburn to dismiss,” Ermert said.

Certainly, Ermert said, the allegations could not come at a much worse time from a public relations standpoint for Auburn, which came under scrutiny for the Cam Newton saga this past season, an ongoing investigation.

Head coach Gene Chizik, who was the defensive coordinator at Auburn from 2002-04, said he didn’t know of any infractions that happened during the period.

Or any since.

“We’re going to do it in our heart of hearts the best way we know how. And I can sleep really good at night knowing that,” Chizik said. “And that’s what I know. All this other stuff I don’t know. And to be honest with you, I don’t really have the energy to figure it out. But I know in my heart of hearts that we’re doing things the right way here at Auburn.”

dmorrison@oanow.com | 737-2568

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