Auburn: A Not So Silver Lining?

On Sunday morning, Steven Sully was in Portland reading an online article posted by Ben Bartley, who wrote about what Auburn and Auburn football means to him as a recent graduate. The near-term possibilities for the Vols unfolded right on Steve’s iPad in the form of the stunning progress of the Auburn Tigers.

On that same Sunday morning, some 3,000 miles away in Knoxville, Teddy Karwacki read a much different take of the progress of Auburn’s football program over the past few years.

In nearby Chattanooga, Carlton Wilson was about to read the study that was the basis of Teddy’s reading. He was downtrodden about the seemingly never-ending trend.

Steven remembered that the 2004 season was the one that left the BCS system vulnerable to public warfare. Auburn had finished the regular season undefeated, but was left out of the BCS championship game because there were two other undefeated teams that were ranked ahead of the Tigers – USC and Oklahoma. War Eagle thrashed Virginia Tech in the Sugar Bowl for the unwanted Booby Prize. It was a fate that could have befallen Tennessee in 1998, but the right teams fell for the Vols at the end of that eternally cherished campaign.

Steven read how two years later, the 2006 season was once again “Auburn football near its peak” – a team that won 11 games “through luck and grit and confidence borrowed from the previous two seasons”. It included a Cotton Bowl win over Nebraska. Unbeknownst to anyone,that season was “the hero before the fall”.

The following 2007 season was Auburn football “in decline”, even with a 9-4 record and a Chick-Fil-A Bowl win over Clemson. Good fortune “wasn’t with this team like it had been the year before”. There were early, galling losses to South Florida and Mississippi State.

The 5-and-7 2008 season was the one including perhaps the worst game ever played (the 3-2 “win” over Mississippi State), the second-worst game ever played (a 14-12 “win” over Tennessee), and a 36-0 loss to ‘Bama. It was “the bottom”. It was the last season of Tommy Tuberville. It appeared that “Auburn was in for years of wandering in the wilderness.”

Enter Gene Chizik. The 2009 season was one of “renewed hope”, even with a 3-5 record after a 5-0 start. “Auburn’s awful offense” was turned into “something serviceable”. The following top 5 recruiting class “included some giant junior college quarterback named Cam Newton”.

Enter Cam Newton. Now, ready for the 2010 season finale against Oregon for the BCS National Championship, Auburn may complete one of the most remarkable turnarounds ever. Steven thought that being an Auburn fan, the Cam Newton questions notwithstanding, must be like riding the largest roller coaster known to man. In five seasons, the Tigers were 11-2, then 9-4, then 5-7, and then climbed to 8-5, and then, well, could it be 13-0?

Steven asked himself, “Could Tennessee emulate such a renaissance in the next couple of years?” The Tigers had been a hair’s breath from glory in 2004 and again in 2006, then fell quickly to the point where the abyss was more than just imaginable. And in only two seasons, under a brand new coach, Auburn was standing at the brink of perfection and the ultimate silverware.

“If it could happen in Auburn, it could happen in Knoxville” thought Steven.

*****

Teddy Karwacki was enjoying his Sunday morning in Knoxville with coffee and a hearty dose of online sports reading. One of his favorites has been Senator Blutarsky, who earlier in the week posted an article on his Bulldogs’ rival Auburn.

Auburn may be ranked first in one poll, read Teddy, but they are ranked 85th in another. The NY Times Pete Thamel wrote:

PARADISE VALLEY, Ariz. — In the aftermath of a football academic scandal at Auburn in 2006 that caused two department heads to step down and the N.C.A.A. to investigate, university officials are no longer bragging — or even talking — about the team’s once-stellar scholastic record.

Auburn’s top-ranked football team, which is preparing to play Oregon in Glendale, Ariz., for the national title on Monday, has tumbled in the N.C.A.A.’s most important academic measurement to No. 85 from No. 4 among the 120 major college football programs.

The decline came after the university closed several academic loopholes following a New York Times article in 2006 that showed numerous football players padded their grade-point averages and remained eligible through independent-study-style courses that required little or no work. Auburn has earned a certain sort of praise from those who were its toughest critics in 2006.

Teddy also read that Auburn’s drop was the third largest in terms of standing since 2006 (behind only Ole Miss and Florida State). In 2006, Auburn ranked first of all public universities.

From 2006, the Tigers, on the field, had gone from near the top to near the bottom, to perhaps the top – all in the matter of five seasons. But during that time, it appeared to Teddy, an academician, that Auburn had fallen off the rail in terms of academics.

W-L going one way, and graduation rate going the other.

Teddy saw Auburn as a murky mess of unknown goings on off the field. And, the effect of it on the field might be lurking around the corner.

But, he still hoped Auburn would bring the SEC another national title nonetheless. The pieces could be picked up later.

*****

Carlton Wilson was going to read the entirety of the study released by The Institute for Diversity and Ethics in Sport (TIDES) at the University of Central Florida that indicated “Overall academic progress continued while the gap between white and African-American football student-athletes increased slightly for the 70 Football Bowl Subdivision (FBS) schools (formerly known as Division I-A schools) playing in this year’s college football bowl games.”

The thought of this finding depressed Carlton to no end.

And Tennessee’s graduation rate – 53% for the Vol football team – was nothing that brought pride either.

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2 responses to “Auburn: A Not So Silver Lining?”

  1. Ben says :

    Thanks for the links. Auburn’s decline in academics from first to near the bottom is depressing. But, if I’m being honest, I’d trade being first in academics for being first in the BCS rankings. I think all football fans would, even if that does sound sleezy and narrow-minded. I like to think there’s no correlation between the rise of the football program and the fall of academics. But I’m an Auburn fan.

    Tennessee will have its day soon.

    • norcalvol says :

      As I was taught, correlation does not necessarily extrapolate to causation.

      Thanks for stopping by – I enjoy your writing.

      And, as for tonite, it could be epic.

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