Marshall: Mobile Officials Embarrassing

If anyone is embarrassed by the goings-on in Mobile, it ought to be the Mobile County school system.

Auburn? Nah. As athletic director Jay Jacobs said earlier, it's not about Auburn. Auburn's only involvement is that B.C. Rain defensive back Ryan Williams and Williamson lineman Nick Fairley, who apparently had numerous grades changed, are football signees. The changes were made well before either signed or even committed to sign with Auburn.

A lot of misinformation about the case is still floating around.

Perhaps most misunderstood is the function of the NCAA Eligibility Clearinghouse. The clearinghouse is not an investigative arm of the NCAA. Its mission is to certify grades, nothing more. It does not conduct investigations.

It is not in the least unusual for the clearinghouse to question changes on transcripts. It'll happen dozens of times this summer. When a grade is flagged, the clearinghouse will write to high school officials and ask for documentation. Either the change is accepted and the grade certified or the change is rejected. If the change is rejected, the previous grade is the one counted.

The clearinghouse then adds it all up and says a player has either met academic qualifications or he hasn't. And that is all the clearinghouse does. Beyond that, neither the clearinghouse nor the NCAA has jurisdiction over anything happening at any high school.

Obviously, if there was evidence that someone at an NCAA member university had been involved in a grade change, that university would be investigated. But such an investigation--and there is no sign of anything like that in this case--would be conducted by NCAA enforcement officials, not by the clearinghouse.

But going back to Mobile County, it still seems very strange to me that there has been no effort by school officials to protect Williams' or Fairley's privacy. On the contrary, they made their identities obvious early on.

If grades were so easily changed, you have to wonder if they are the only two to ever have benefited. A lot of players from Mobile have signed with a lot of schools, and a lot of those players were on the borderline academically. I wonder if they'll investigate that.

Nick Fairley makes a block in last Saturday night's Alabama-Mississippi All-Star Game. He was one of the top players in that contest.

Anyway, from Auburn's perspective, the only real issue is who will be eligible and who won't. Fairley, who was considered a long shot to qualify when he signed, probably won't be. Williams, who was never considered an academic risk, apparently will qualify whether the changed grades are counted or not. At least that's the word from people who should know.

Moving on...

A recent email asked my opinion on two questions: What is the biggest question mark facing Auburn football in 2007? What are the biggest strengths?

Other than keeping key players healthy, a priority everywhere, I think the No. 1 thing that must happen for Auburn to be a contender is that the rebuilt offensive line must come together and perform at a high level. Not far behind that would be the kicking game, which must be totally retooled.

The biggest strengths are a veteran and talented quarterback in Brandon Cox, an embarrassment of riches at running back and at tight end, a defensive line that could be the best at Auburn in many years, a game-changer in defensive end Quentin Groves, another game changer in linebacker Tray Blackmon and a good mixture of athletic ability and experience in the secondary...

Brandon Cox is shown in a summer workout on the AU campus.

I was sad to see that Pat McMahon was let go as Florida's baseball coach. McMahon is one of the really nice guys I've come across in this business.

Coaching at Florida can be tough. Athletic director Jeremy Foley knows his program has advantages few others have, and he doesn't have a lot of patience when things don't go well...

Straying away from sports for a moment, why in the world does anyone care whether Paris Hilton is in jail, under house arrest or anything else? What in the world is the fascination?

Watching CNN on Thursday night, you'd have thought Paris' whereabouts were a bigger issue than kids dying in Iraq, the immigration bill being debated in the Senate or the meeting of world leaders in Germany.

I just don't understand...

Until next time...

2007 Auburn Football Guide

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