AU officials, as expected, mounted a lengthy and detailed defense of charges that the Tigers offered money and cars to entice a pair of prospects to sign with the Tigers. Auburn denied that it made illegal offers or even offered scholarships to guard Chadd Moore of Huntsville, who later signed with the University of Cincinnati, or Tennessee signee Jacky Butler from McComb, Miss.
Auburn head coach Cliff Ellis was not charged with violations in the case, but he made the trip across the country and addressed the committee along with his top assistant, Shannon Weaver, who was named by NCAA investigators in the charges. Ellis strongly denied the charges that AU offered cash and vehicles in order to sign the recruits.
Cliff Ellis (standing) and Shannon Weaver (seated at right) flew back east from Phoenix to coach AU's Saturday game at Ole Miss.
Auburn admitted that it committed secondary violations, but did not back down on its stand that there were no major infractions committed concerning the men's basketball program. AU is believed to be offering to self-imposed sanctions that include the loss of one scholarship for the spring 2004 signing period and reduction in official, paid recruiting visits.
The investigation, which lasted 21 months, also includes charges that Huntsville AAU coach Mark Komara, who coached Butler and Moore, is a recruiting interest of the university, something that the university strongly denied again at the hearing. Komara has also denied the charge through his attorney and an attorney for Butler has denied that Auburn illegally recruited the former Mississippi prep star. More than five hours of the meeting on Friday was devoted to debating allegations involving Butler and approximately 4 1/2 hours was allotted to discussing the issues surrounding Moore.
As an alleged interest of AU, Komara is accused of arranging for Butler to attend an AU home game in March, 2001 in which food, lodging and tickets were provided to the player at no cost. Komara is also accused of paying expenses for Butler to attend AAU tournaments in Alabama, Nevada and North Carolina. AU is accused of having a representative (Komara) spend $694 to have electronic equipment installed in Butler's vehicle in July 2001.
In recruiting Moore, AU is accused of having a representative (Komara) provide weekly cash supplements for spending money and clothes during the summer of 2001, offering a vehicle and cash (Weaver) if he would sign with the Tigers, illegally providing round-trip transportation and meals to attend an Auburn game and that improper recruiting contacts were made through Komara during non-contact periods starting in the summer of 1999.
AU also strongly denied charges that an automobile and cash were offered to Butler by former AU assistant coach Mike Wilson, who currently works as a scout for the NBA's Denver Nuggets. Wilson left the university following the 2001-2002 season to take a job at the University of Richmond, but lost that position due to problems with his resume concerning former coaching stops. Wilson declined to be interviewed by AU or NCAA investigators during the investigation, however, through his attorney agreed at the last minute to talk to NCAA officials. However, his input was part of the proceedings.
Auburn University interim president Dr. Ed Richardson, who also represented the university at the Committee on Infractions hearing in Phoenix, said the believes Auburn officials presented a strong defense against the charges and said he was "optimistic" that AU would not receive severe sanctions. However, he does not know how the committee will rule. Auburn is not expected to learn the findings of the committee on infractions until April at the earliest. The university has the option to appeal the ruling to another committee if it is not satisfied with the the ruling. There is also a possibility of a lawsuits in the case.
In addition to Weaver's personal attorney and university attorneys, Athletic Director David Housel represented AU at the hearing. NCAA Director of Enforcement Dave Didion was also at the meeting. Didion and Ellis clashed when Didion was Auburn's NCAA compliance officer before taking a post with the NCAA. Ellis tried to get Didion fired when the coach claimed that Didion mis-interpreted NCAA rules that led to the university suspending basketball players Chris Davis and Moochie Norris. Didion was actively involved in the Auburn case and personally interviewed Clara Moore, the mother of Chadd Moore, although NCAA policy states that as a former AU employee he should not be directly involved in an investigation concerning the university.