Unfortunate Stereotyping And Fantasy Weekend

Columnist Phillip Marshall tackles several topics in his Monday column for Tiger Ticket subscribers.

As anyone who regularly reads what I write in this space surely knows, I have had little to say about the ongoing controversy that surrounds the Auburn Board of Trustees. I know the feelings are very strong on both sides and that there are good people on both sides.

Who is right and who is wrong is not for me to say. I know many of the trustees and know them to be good and honorable people. I know many who feel strongly that changes are needed and also know them to be good and honorable people. However, as some pursue their personal agendas, the truth often gets lost in the sound and fury. The New York Times story on the Auburn situation was eagerly awaited. When I read it, I found it to be little more than a rehash of old news and often-stated opinions. It leaned heavily on the stereotype of southerners as ignorant folks more concerned about college football than the state of the world.

Personally, I found that offensive. Perhaps Kate Zernike, who wrote the stories, has never looked into big-time athletic programs in other parts of the country. Does she believe college football is not a huge business at Michigan, Penn State, Nebraska, UCLA, etc., etc., etc.? It makes good reading, I guess, to bring up professors' salaries compared to coaches' salaries, to talk about money spent on athletics compared to money spent on other university endeavors. It makes good reading, but it's not a valid comparison.

Ms. Zernike wrote: "The critics accuse the board, which they say is under Mr. Lowder's thumb, of paying too much attention to athletics and not enough to academics--lowering academic standards, cutting programs and keeping faculty salaries below those at comparable institutions, even as former coaches are kept on the payroll for hundreds of thousands of dollars a year."

Athletic programs at Auburn and Alabama spend no state funds. Athletics is a drain on university budgets at UAB, Troy State and other places, but not at Auburn and Alabama. Football, basketball and, to a lesser extent, baseball bring in the money that supports the entire athletic program. Maybe Ms. Zernike also should have taken the time to look at easily obtainable public records. She would have learned that the only former Auburn coach on the payroll is Pat Dye, who actually does have duties and doesn't make hundreds of thousands of dollars a year from the university. Since she pointed out the troubles at the end of Dye's coaching career, perhaps she also should have made mention of his four SEC championships and the millions of dollars those championships brought the athletic program, local merchants and, yes, the school as a whole.

Ms. Zernike's reference to Lowder, of course, is to trustee Bobby Lowder, who has given far, far more money to non-athletic university projects than he has to athletics. To portray Auburn as a school with its priorities somehow out of kilter because of its athletics program is both unfair and inaccurate. If Auburn's priorities are out of order, they are out of order also at Alabama, Georgia, Tennessee, LSU, Florida and every other place trying to compete at the highest level.

There are those at all those schools who certainly do believe priorities are out of order and who look at big-time athletics with disdain. But if you take a vote of the "Auburn Family," I think it's safe that the overwhelming majority would support that athletic program. If the entire athletic program were shut down tomorrow, it wouldn't mean more money for engineering. If anything, it would mean less. The "family feud" she wrote of will go on for a while, I guess, and that's really too bad.

FANTASY CAMP

Forty of the worst looking football prospects you'll ever see showed up on the Auburn campus over the weekend. No speed. No athleticism. No endurance.

They were here for Tommy Tuberville's fantasy camp. Old and middle-aged men ran out on the field at Jordan-Hare Stadium to be put through drills by Auburn coaches. They got a loud "halftime speech" from defensive ends coach Terry Price. They also learned some football from offensive coordinator Bobby Petrino and defensive coordinator Gene Chizik.

Auburn alumnus Vincent Saia, for many years a loyal supporter, got serious when he was asked to talk to the "team." Saia, whose brother, Claude, was a backfield coach under Ralph "Shug" Jordan, put Tuberville in high company. "In all the years I've been here, the next man to Coach Jordan is Coach Tommy Tuberville," Saia said. "I'm not knocking anybody else who has been here. He's class. He can coach, he can recruit and he has great character. You see his assistants. They can coach and they can recruit. We are going to stand behind Coach Tuberville. He has himself surrounded by great people."

Tuberville got the idea for a fantasy camp when he was defensive coordinator at Texas A&M. He started one at Ole Miss, then at Auburn. "It gets people involved," Tuberville said. "It gives them an opportunity to meet with the coaches and get to know them. I think they kind of get to live their dreams, dressing in the locker room and running out on the field at Jordan-Hare Stadium. It's all in fun.

"A lot of these guys have given thousands, even millions, of dollars. I think it's just a dream these guys have. They get to live one day what an Auburn football player lives for four or five years."


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