Marshall: Richardson's Findings No Surprise

No matter how much some tried to twist and turn it, the Auburn issue of the past month was never about athletics...

It really was obvious from the start.

No matter how much some tried to twist it and turn it, the Auburn issue of the past month never was about athletics. Interim President Ed Richardson announced Thursday that an internal investigation had found what anyone who looked closely at the facts could see: This was an academic issue.

As Richardson said, that's no cause for celebration. Auburn's academic reputation has taken a beating, though none of the wounds should be permanent. I don't believe anyone's engineering or pharmacy or business or veterinary medicine degree will be diminished because a couple of professors in the sociology and adult education departments taught too many directed-reading courses.

But I'll leave that debate to others. After all, I am a mere sportswriter and this site is devoted to Auburn athletics.

There are still loose ends to be tied up and a handful of interviews to be conducted, but Auburn's internal investigation is as good as over. The athletic department has been cleared of any wrongdoing in the case.

A surprise? Maybe to some. Not to me.

Maybe those who were and probably still are convinced that academic counselors in the Auburn athletic department were up to no good have never sat down and had a conversation with Virgil Starks, the man who runs the academic show. Maybe they've never seen first-hand what happens in the Auburn athletic department. Maybe they've never talked to football players, current and past, and to those players' parents about head coach Tommy Tuberville's very real commitment to academics.

The controversy that now appears ready to wither on the vine started with an anonymous complaint on June 5. The public learned about the allegations after sociology director James Gundlach laid out his case against department head Tom Petee in The New York Times. The Auburn investigation grew to include the same kinds of allegations against the adult education program.

Obviously, Gundlach's allegations had enough merit that Petee and Jim Witte, the adult education program coordinator, were forced to step down from their positions. Their crime was teaching far more directed-reading courses than is considered appropriate.

Richardson was dead on Thursday when he said that the minority of athletes taking those courses were used to give the story "traction." Gundlach himself said as much to me in an interview days after the story broke.

Well, it worked. The story got traction. And in the process, a whole lot of innocent people had their integrity questioned and their reputations smeared. Maybe some think it was worth the cost. I don't.

One of the great ironies of this is that Auburn is one of the more academically demanding schools in the Southeastern Conference. Its core curriculum--the courses required of all students--is significantly more challenging than most. Auburn doesn't have a program like general studies, the major listed by almost 40 LSU football players.

The academic accomplishments of Auburn athletes in recent years have truly been remarkable. And nothing that has come out in the past month diminishes that.

Regardless, the hand-wringing will soon be over.

There will not be any problem with SACS or with the NCAA. The value of Auburn degrees in the marketplace will not be lessened. Academics will continue to be stressed in the Auburn athletic department. Some athletes will do well in the classroom. Some won't. Gundlach will not be called to testify before any Congressional committees.

Dr. Ed Richardson

Richardson, whose candor and honesty have been a breath of fresh air after the sad and often disgusting administration of former president William Walker, will soon ride off into retirement. A new president will try to deal with Auburn's amazing propensity to inflict wounds upon itself.

Life will go on.

For now, maybe those of us whose job it is to chronicle the story of Auburn athletics can concentrate on how long it will be before Joe Cope is back at center, who will start at safety, the uncertainty at linebacker, whether this team really is as good as its lofty preseason ranking would suggest.

Maybe we can leave stories about directed-reading classes, about "academic rigor" and the like to those whose job it is to cover those things.

At least I can hope.

2006 Inside the Auburn Tigers Auburn Football Guide

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