Marshall: Damage Done Despite Outcome

Columnist Phillip Marshall writes about the ups and downs of the "Auburn Family," the current controversy in the university's sociology department and the bitterness of the Auburn vs. Alabama rivlary.

Auburn University is a very strange place. I know of no other way to put it.

It generates amazing passion and loyalty among those who go to school there and even many who don't. For many people, the attachment to Auburn seems truly spiritual.

But then there is the other side of Auburn, the self-destructive side, the side that threatens from time to time to blow the so-called Auburn family apart from within. It is that side that has been on display in recent days.

Many universities generate great loyalty and passion. I know of no other that does more damage to itself than does Auburn.

SACS probation wasn't brought on by an outside complaint. SACS didn't come on its own to investigate. It was summoned by Auburn faculty members and alumni, some of whom were actually disappointed when the probation was lifted. The turmoil of the past decade, turmoil that eventually led to the SACS action, started because of internal strife, not external forces.

Of course, if there had been no problems to be found, none would have been found.

The NCAA probation that hit the football program in 1993 came, not from a complaint from an opponent, but from within.

Again, if no one had given Eric Ramsey money and given him the opportunity to tape the transaction, there would have been no probation.

The clandestine attempt to get rid of Tommy Tuberville in 2003 obviously came from within.

And now comes the latest crisis. Unless you've been hiding under a rock, you know what it is. Sociology director. James Gundlach provided information to The New York Times which he says shows athletes were getting special treatment from department head Thomas Petee.

Mass hysteria has followed. Neither I nor anyone else knows where this is eventually headed, what the repercussions will be. What I do know is that it has been a huge embarrassment for Auburn. Even if the allegations are refuted, the embarrassment will remain. So it is in our media age.

Auburn people, the vast majority of them helpless to do anything, can only squirm and wish it would hurry up and end. The end will come, of course, but the scars will remain for a while.

And the festering discontent in some areas of the university will remain.

Every big-time athletic school has faculty members who intensely dislike athletics, especially football. Whether Auburn has more than most, I have no way of knowing. Though he has said he's not a football fan, I have no idea whether Gundlach is in that camp or not.

I do not and have not said Gundlach's charges are untrue. Nor have I said they are true. We'll find out soon enough, I guess.

The result, by any measure, has already been perceived humiliation for Auburn. Whether the result will eventually be even worse or whether it will all fade away with the coming of autumn remains to be seen.

What we have now is an ongoing investigation, many reporters trying to do their jobs and dig up as much information as they can and a gag order that prohibits everyone employed by the university from talking openly about the issues.

We have celebrating Alabama fans and shell-shocked Auburn fans. We have a truly sad situation.

The hatred that has infested the Auburn-Alabama rivalry was already distressing enough. This will only make it worse. And both sides contribute. Alabama fans are celebrating Auburn's troubles no more than Auburn fans celebrated when Alabama had NCAA problems. Gundlach is being vilified by some Auburn fans. He's a sympathetic figure to many Alabama fans. Sound familiar? Alabama fans turned quickly on Gene Marsh and Marie Robbins. Auburn fans defended them.

Many in both fan bases, it seems, take more pleasure in the other side's misfortune than in their own school's good fortune.

That's sad. No, really, it's sick.

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