All the Speaker's Men and the Collapse of AU Athletics
The Alabama Gazette welcomes anyone from the Auburn administration to respond or comment regarding this article.
For those not in total denial, it is difficult to avoid burning eyes from the proverbial smoke surrounding Auburn. Two revealing articles [11/11/14 and 8/27/15] in the Wall Street Journal, considered the most prestigious national newspaper in the world by some, reported a local contractor with connections to Auburn's athletics director Jay Jacobs was somehow able to buy large quantities of football tickets to high demand games - including the 2013 Iron Bowl. Many see this exacerbating the troublesome fact AU athletics ran a deficit of nearly $1 million in 2013 despite the football team’s success on the field. The WSJ published another article exposing top administrators (again including AD Jay Jacobs) directly interfering in faculty governance of academic curricula. Specifically, an external review, the department faculty, two university committees, and every relevant academic administrator supported the closure of a troubled academic program (Public Administration) which contained a ‘cluster’ of athletes - most noticeably many elite players on the football team. Top athletic administrators proactively and aggressively intervened, even offering to pay the salary of faculty in this specific major to keep the program open. These two WSJ articles have led to several follow-up articles in local papers, most recently the more detailed and alarming article in the Montgomery Advertiser [10/5/15] concerning the AU football ticket scandal.
Recent performance of the football team is also indicative of deep rooted trouble in athletics. The football team endured numerous painful losses at the end of last season due to an embarrassingly poor and record-setting lack of performance on defense. The immediate firing one of the “lowest men on the relevant totem pole” - in this case the defensive coordinator -- was an all too predictable ‘Auburn-esque’ outcome. Never Fear Loyal Fans of Subsidized Sports: the immediate expenditure of a large amount of money to bring in a new defensive coordinator would right the ship as the athletic administration shamelessly shilled to hype Auburn up to #6 in the AP rankings to kick-off the season. Effective enough to push Jeremy Johnson’s name into pre-season Heisman trophy talk; this sort of shilling looks even more foolhardy in retrospect as the start of the new season gave way to a shocking collapse of offense along with the continued defensive woes which plagued AU last season.
Auburn fans and taxpayers, already shelling out more of their hard-earned money to pay for the monstrosity of a new scoreboard, got to experience the full glory of the brand new screen to “more clearly” observe one of the most embarrassing performances in AU football history against Jacksonville State. Fans were now better equipped to experience in full-HD amplification every painful detail of the team’s epic failure to perform. As AD Jacobs prophetically promised, it was the type of gameday experience Auburn fans DESERVED - the stunned silence of the crowd communicated just how appreciative they were of all Mr. Jacobs had done for them. The JSU debacle was followed by back-to-back humiliations from SEC rivals LSU and Mississippi State. The LSU game was over by halftime and the mighty AU offense failed to score a single touchdown at home against MSU. Less than a month into the season all talk of contending for the SEC title or a shot at the playoffs vanished from the “big picture.” How did the top brass in the athletics department respond to this epic collapse of the football team? The day after the loss to Mississippi State, in classic Auburn family tradition, Director Jacobs fired the… BASEBALL coach.
Ticket scandals exposed by the media and the performance of the football team aren’t the only ‘smoke-signals’ of crisis in Auburn. The past year has also provided disturbing legal developments related to AU Athletics. House Speaker Mike Hubbard (R - Auburn) has been doing everything possible to impede a speedy trial in Lee County for his 23 count felony indictment. Hubbard got his start in the AU Athletics Department. Many may recall the Buddy Mitchell affidavit explaining how Hubbard unethically acquired broadcast rights to AU sports by abusing the process. The tenth count of Hubbard's felony indictment reveal communications between Hubbard and top AU administrators in the athletics department. Documents filed as evidence in Judge Walker’s Circuit Court by the prosecution show e-mail exchanges between Mike Hubbard, Jay Jacobs, and senior associate athletics director Rich McGlynn. Hubbard solicits the help of Jacobs to set up a meeting for one of his “consulting” clients (Edgenuity, Inc.) with a high ranking NCAA official since Hubbard has no such connections at the NCAA. Jacobs emails Hubbard and indicates McGlynn is working on it for him. McGlynn is Auburn's director for compliance and both Jacobs and McGlynn are considered State employees. Other e-mails show a pattern of the Speaker abusing his mantle of power to use State employees (including President Gogue) to promote wealth transfers to the Speaker or his specific interest over the General welfare of our citizens and taxpayers.
Days after the Montgomery Advertiser further exposed the football ticket scandal we observe a federal lawsuit against top university and athletics officials claiming retaliation against the original whistleblower, Matt Davis. President Jay Gogue (or ‘Gouge’ [sic] in the plaintiff’s spelling for those who appreciate the ticket scandal irony), athletics director Jay Jacobs, and associate athletics directors Rich McGlynn and David Benedict are all individually named defendants in the lawsuit. Executive director of Auburn's internal auditing office, Kevin Robinson is also a named defendant. In short, Matt Davis was director of the priority seating program for Tigers Unlimited and claims thousands of tickets within the Tigers Unlimited donors’ area had been held back from purchase by donors; these tickets were instead being sold without the benefit of a donation to Tigers Unlimited. Notwithstanding initial denials of Davis' claims by the University, the Advertiser reported, “a senior member of the athletic department, who agreed to speak only if their name was not used, said Auburn has intentionally prevented thousands of tickets in donor sections from being sold to Tigers Unlimited donors essentially in order to circumvent the university’s loyalty pledge.”
Surely top university and athletics officials wouldn’t retaliate against employees who speak out against corruption, incompetence, and dishonesty in their efforts to remove corrupting pollutants from the university system and avoid even greater harm? After all, Auburn is a “family” - we’re “all in” -- Right? "Sadly, the productive folks who work at AU know it to be a “family” in the same sense the Corleones were a family in The Godfather" - esp. if you’re outside the circle of corruption. The ‘lesser’ family members are expected to facilitate the largess of elite members of the family or they’ll certainly be dealt with very harshly. So yet again, AU appears to have engaged in its usual tactics against Davis: intimidation, phony investigations or evaluations and ultimately termination. Little surprise the lawsuit states Rich McGlynn was the athletics official present when Mr. Davis was given his termination letter; the same Rich McGlynn apparently used by AD Jay Jacobs to get results for Mike Hubbard with the NCAA.
Another ‘sure-fire’ way to discern these are troubled times for athletics administration at AU is to ‘follow the money’ as economists are known to undertake. Raises typically go into effect at the start of a new budget year on October 1st. One can get a quick measure of raises by comparing September to October salary files published on the AU budget website. This year, the largest dollar raise at AU appears to have been given to Mr. Jacobs in the amount of $51,900. According to the historical salary files, this amount is greater than the sum of all his raises for the previous three years COMBINED. The last time I observed a $52k published raise was for an allegedly infamous AU administrator in the College of Business - oddly enough the Speaker’s neighbor. Similarly, the highest ranking administrator with authority over athletics (President Jay Gogue) also did very well for himself this year, landing a massive $40,100 salary increase. Again, oddly enough, EVERY named defendant in the Matt Davis lawsuit did very well this year. Jay Gogue, Jay Jacobs, and Rich McGlynn all show an 8% pay increase, the maximum merit raise one could receive without special justification. David Benedict's salary increased 7% and the executive director of internal auditing, Kevin Robinson, shows a salary increase of over 21%!
If history is any guide, the quickest way to riches at Auburn University is to get yourself in troubles related to athletics - the data shows it pays very well. The Board of Trustees only approved a 3% merit raise pool this year. Indeed, the executive associate athletics director Tim Jackson, who is NOT a named defendant in the Davis lawsuit, only shows a salary increase of 3%. Meanwhile, many faculty who in fact distinguish themselves in a variety of POSITIVE ways do not even receive 3%. A most glaring example is Professor Brian Bourdeau, recently featured on the front page of AU's website for his cutting-edge marketing research using advanced MRI technology. Moreover, Prof. Bourdeau was the very first faculty member President Gogue singled out for praise during his remarks at the General Faculty Meeting this Fall semester. Salary files show Bourdeau's raise at only $2,330 or 2%. Director Jacob's raise was over twenty times larger in dollar terms and four times larger in percentage terms. Rather than working so hard to successfully bring positive attention to Auburn's research mission, just think how much better Prof. Bourdeau could have done for himself if only he had spent his time ruining Auburn Athletics instead. How I long for the days of football coaches who refused to be paid any more than the highest earning Professor on faculty - one may safely type we’ll never see such honor, sagacity and self-restraint out of university administrators…
Postscript: many thanks to Professors Seals and Stern for data input on this column, the usual caveat applies that any error(s) in conveying and interpreting the data are my own. Please forgive any and all errors which apply - esp. my poor perspective on football performance better left to other Alabama Gazette writers much more informed on the matter.
*George Petrie (April 10, 1866 – September 6, 1947) was an American scholar and educator who played a crucial role in the development of Auburn University. From 1887 until his retirement in 1942, Petrie held various positions at Auburn, including professor of history and Latin, head of the History Department, and dean of the Graduate School. Petrie also organized and coached Auburn's first football team in 1892.