Outkickthecoverage.com has learned that the NCAA's continuing probe of Auburn University's football program led NCAA investigators to Montgomery, Alabama in the last week of June. NCAA investigator Jackie Thurnes checked in to the Renaissance Hotel in downtown Montgomery and conducted interviews in conference rooms there. Thurnes investigation dealt with continuing issues surrounding the eligibilty of Cam Newton and other Auburn players implicated in pay-for-play scandals. This revelation comes on the heels of the recent New York Times report that at the SEC's spring meetings in SanDestin, Florida, Auburn coach Gene Chizik confronted an NCAA investigator and demanded to know whether the NCAA's investigation was complete. The NCAA representative told Chizk the investigation was not complete, but until now no media entity had provided details about the ongoing probe for months.
As part of the latest round of investigation in Montgomery, Thurnes conducted interviews with Montgomery businessmen with relationships to Auburn University. Reached for comment by outkickthecoverage.com multiple individuals who spoke with Thurnes declined comment. Those interviews dealt with the NCAA's continuing probe of Cam Newton, but also focused on allegations levied on HBO's Real Sports by former Auburn player Stanley McClover. McClover told HBO that he'd been paid to play football for Auburn. The NCAA investigating McClover's claims is interesting because typically the NCAA statute of limitations on collegiate wrongdoing is four years. McClover last played at Auburn in January of 2006, but the NCAA reserves the right to expand the statute of limitations if there is a connection or pattern of wrongdoing.
The NCAA investigation has now stretched into its tenth month, leaving Auburn and SEC officials chastened. In SanDestin at the SEC spring meetings, Florida SEC Commissioner Mike Slive told me that there was no doubt the NCAA's timeframe often conflicted with the immediacy of media coverage. That dichotomy, between media coverage of allegations and tangible proof of wrongdoing, leaves programs dwelling in a perpetual cloud of impropriety. Often that cloud can impact recruiting, a point that was driven home to me by Tennessee football coach Derek Dooley in SanDestin. Indeed, it was Dooley's questioning of the NCAA investigator in SanDestin that led to Chizik's insistence on whether the NCAA had completed its investigation.
The NCAA's ten-month investigation is further complicated by the continuing fount of allegations, many untrue, levied by Alabama fans in the state. These allegations have thrust ordinary citizens into the forefront of the rumor machine. One such individual, Thomas Buckelew, a tailor at Buckelew's Clothing for Men in Montgomery, Alabama, finds himself buffeted by allegations that he provided high-priced suits to Cam Newton at reduced costs. The very suits, you guessed it, that Newton wore at the Heisman ceremony. According to sources, Newton's suits, ties included, cost in excess of $4,000 each. NCAA investigator Jackie Thurnes was informed of this allegation, and the NCAA has spent time investigating its validity.
Since providing the suits at a reduced rate, if proven, would constitute an improper benefit and hence an NCAA violation, the NCAA has to take each allegation seriously. Indeed, last week Georgia Tech's 2009 ACC title was stripped for a mere $312 in improper clothing benefits. In a state as football crazed as Alabama, with fans as passionate as Alabama and Auburn, how in the world do you determine what allegations have any merit and which do not? Particulary since we're talking about a state where, in the wake of the poisioning of the Toomer's Trees, truth is often stranger than any fiction.
What, if any, truth there is to the reported discount remains unclear. Two weeks ago when reached for comment by outkickthecoverage.com, Bucklew acknowledged the he knew Cam and had worked with him but then stated, "I'd rather not get into any of it, but I have not talked to anyone with the NCAA about Cam (Newton)."
Reached again on Monday morning Bucklew reiterated that he had not spoken with the NCAA, but stated, "Any issues have been taken care of." He went on to stay, "There's absolutely nothing I could add to the story."
Then, with a chuckle, Buckelew said, "I honestly hope it (the attention and rumors) keeps up. It's been great for business."