The last day of the Auburn basketball season was a difficult one to watch, on and off the court.

March 9, 2012 — Thursday was a trying day in the midst of a trying season for Auburn head basketball coach Tony Barbee and his Tigers. Auburn was bounced from the SEC Tournament by Ole Miss in the first round, almost assuredly ending a season that saw occasional glimmers of promise. But that wasn’t the worst blow delivered to the Tiger basketball program.

Charles Robinson of Yahoo Sports reported Thursday that Auburn point guard Varez Ward is at the center of a possible points shaving scheme.

The alleged point shaving was reported to have occurred in two games this season: losses to Arkansas on January 25th and to Alabama on February 7th.

According to Robinson’s report an unnamed player voiced concerns to an assistant coach in late February after which Ward was suspended indefinitely.

Ward hasn’t played since the allegations were made known to Auburn coaches, and he did not make the trip to New Orleans with the team for the SEC Basketball Tournament.

Guard Chris Denson was suspended prior to the Arkansas game, but was later cleared to play.

While the alleged actions of Ward and others possibly involved in the scheme are reprehensible, the actions of Barbee and the Auburn Compliance staff are once again commendable.

“Auburn officials were made aware of a rumor regarding an allegation two weeks ago and immediately reported it to the FBI, the NCAA and the SEC,” Auburn said in a statement Thursday.  “Because of the nature of the allegation, Auburn is not in a position to make any further comment on the situation.”

Based on the information known at this time, it appears that the coaching and enforcement staffs at Auburn reacted promptly and properly to the situation.  This is the latest in a series of strong and appropriate responses by Auburn.

Because of the pedestal fans build for college athletes it’s sometimes easy to forget that these are still young men and women in their late teens and early 20s, susceptible to the same pressures and temptations that plague their less-famous contemporaries.

We’ve all seen instances of athletes across the country who destroy promising careers as they chase bad decisions and follow unsavory paths. No coach or program can reasonably be expected to prevent every bad decision an athlete might make. What sets quality programs apart is how they respond to those decisions.

That’s not to excuse anything Ward may have done. It is our hope that the allegations prove false and he is able to regain his name and reputation. But if he was involved in an effort to purposely manipulate the outcome of a game, he deserves whatever punishment is meted out. Unfortunately for Ward this extends far beyond the typical college prank or misstep and has the potential to negatively impact the rest of his life.

Depending on the outcome of the investigation federal charges and prison time are possibilities.

If true, it’s a shame to see a young athlete squander the lifetime opportunities in front of him for a short-term gain. Ward wouldn’t be the first and he won’t be the last.

While Ward’s allegations disappoint, the response by the Auburn Athletic Department was exemplary.

The Auburn Athletic Department once again proved it has the integrity and courage to do what’s right.  Auburn could have adopted a wait and see attitude and attempted to handle the issue internally. Instead, Auburn administration followed proper procedure.  The proper authorities were contacted immediately.

Most neutral observers believe that Auburn’s swift and decisive action will most likely allow the program to avoid sanctions.

Based on NCAA precedent in past point-shaving cases, Auburn would be unlikely to face any institutional penalties if it reported the information promptly.

In a Thursday interview with Yahoo Sports Robinson said “Because of the fact Auburn moved on this so quickly; because of the fact this was an internal tip and they acted to suspend players for the reasoning of questioning them immediately, I believe the NCAA is going to look at Auburn University and say ‘you acted appropriately once you had the information in your hands.’”

That’s a credit to Auburn players, the Auburn coaching staff, Auburn administration and the Auburn Compliance Department.

From the handling of the media hysteria fueled and ultimately fruitless allegations regarding Heisman Trophy and BCS Championship winning quarterback Cam Newton, to the swift and certain discipline administered to players involved in off-campus crimes,  to a virtually unprecedented NCAA letter clearing the Auburn program after an exhaustive investigation,  to the firm and direct manner in which it handed the allegations against Ward, the Auburn coaching staff and administration has proven to be outstanding.

You can’t always control the actions of the hundreds of players in an athletic program. You can only control your reaction if things go awry. Time and time again the Auburn Athletic Department gets it right.

 

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