August 30, 2015 - On August 27, Ben Cohen, a Wall Street Journal reporter “exposed” the shocking fact that a certain number of athletes at Auburn pursued the same major.  He also uncovered the fact that when the major was in danger of elimination, the athletic department offered to help subsidize the college to keep that particular major active.

Pardon us while we yawn.

We’ve laid low since February, taking notes, taking names and taking notice in hopes that the persistent assault on all things Auburn had reached an ebb.  Sadly, we knew it wouldn’t last.

We knew as soon as Auburn began to appear in the Top Five of most national polls; as soon as our Tigers started gaining mention among the favorites to reach the four-team playoff that something was coming. You can set your watch by it.  Auburn ascends, out come the hatchets, hacks and smear jobs.

Right on cue, here’s Cohen with a mishmash of vague allegations and a boatload of potential innuendo. As is usual for stories of this nature, they’re repeated over and over by other sources which don’t bother to verify, but rush to quote the same weak source and in repetition do their best to turn Cohen’s grain of sand into a mountain.

We won’t belabor the point of where these attacks ultimately originate (we know you know), but we do know why.  One word: Fear.  We also know to what purpose: Hoped and prayed for distraction.

Whether you want to admit it or not, there are those who would like nothing more than to crush Auburn into oblivion. They have their own reasons, their own individual agendas and their own personal motives. But don’t fool yourself into thinking they don’t exist.

Cohen’s story is a poof piece. There’s nothing substantive to it. And (surprise, surprise) some of his facts are flat out wrong. Among his biggest gaffes is the claim that Auburn athletics “provided an adjunct professor to teach two classes…” and continued with a snide comment about that alleged teacher “teaching ethics.” Cohen’s contention was emphatically refuted by the School of Communication and Journalism:

The School of Communication and Journalism has never received money fro AU Athletics to pay anyone to teach any class. 

But what about that Public Administration major?

Choose any athletic power in the country and you’ll find some of its athletes clustered in an particular major.

At Auburn, that major happened to be Public Administration.  At Ole Miss, the major of choice is General Studies.  Wow, that’s one to put on the resume. At other schools the major du jour is Recreational Studies or  African-American Studies or Human Science or the ever-popular Undergraduate Studies.  That’s a major? Aren’t all college studies before graduate school by definition Undergraduate? How is that even a thing?

It’s a common practice.  Auburn’s hardly unique.

In fact, when you examine the rosters of Auburn athletes you’ll find a wider variety of majors among them than any other D-1 school in the country save Virginia Tech.

In other words, even though many Tiger athletes choose one major, fewer Auburn athletes choose a single major than the athletes at almost any other college in the country.  And Cohen chose the Tigers for his missive?

Beyond that, there are more Auburn athletes majoring in Business (14) than in Public Administration (10).  Compare that to 30 athletes at LSU majoring in Sport Administration or the 27 at Arkansas majoring in either Kinesiology or Recreation Management. What was Cohen’s point again?

Back in 2006, 26% of Alabama football players majored in General Studies, compared to two percent of the rest of the college population.  Today, 20% major in Business.

Stories about college athletes “clustering” in particular majors were posted by ESPN in 2011 and by Cohen’s own Wall Street Journal in 2010. Another article in SportsGrid in 2010 also addressed the topic, noting that at five schools more than half the sophomores, juniors and seniors had the same major. None of those schools were Auburn. They were, somewhat surprisingly, Vanderbilt, UCLA, Georgia Tech, Wake Forest and Baylor.

In each of those articles there was an attempt at fairness. Each surveyed a number of schools, each stated facts and refrained from conjecture. Not so, Cohen’s Auburn-specific slam.

So what if the Auburn athletic department offered to help subsidize the major? It wouldn’t be the first time an athletic department provided money to support academics at the college with which it was affiliated.

As a 2012 article in Forbes noted:
Alabama’s athletic department, for instance, contributed $3.5 million to the school’s non-athletic scholarship fund last year as part of a $6.5 million contribution package for university programming.

A 2010 report from WBIR examined six SEC schools and noted the often substantial infusion of money from athletic departments to academic institutions.

At the University of Alabama, assistant to the president Deborah Lane indicated, “Our Athletics Department gives more than $5 million to UA annually.”  Lane said $1 million of that money was for faculty support and more than $3 million was for scholarships on campus.

Funding faculty? Really?

The concept of earmarking funds to help a particular department, one which was struggling financially, may not have been the best idea to come down the pike, but the question remains: Did Auburn Athletics actually contribute funds to keep the program alive?   Nope.

Was the program kept in the Auburn curriculum?  Yes it was.  As Cohen himself reported:
Joseph Aistrup, the Auburn dean with oversight of the program, is a political scientist who has done research in public administration. He called himself a “PA guy” in an interview this week. “I didn’t want to see a PA program in the undergrad level put asunder,” he said.

Even after several faculty committees voted to suspend the major, Aistrup said he felt it was important for a pre-professional program in the College of Liberal Arts to remain an option. “It’s something that we need,” he said. “It’s a program that students want.”

So a university official in charge of the program who has a personal background in public administration elects to keep public administration as part of the college’s offerings and did so without help or influence from the athletic department.  And we’re supposed to be, what, shocked? Horrified? Aghast?

When you break down Cohen’s article, there’s really nothing there.  It’s a smear piece coincidentally timed with the opening of football season.

Coincidence? Wait.

This isn’t the first time Cohen threw a bucket of nothing at the Auburn wall hoping something would stick.

In November 2014, Cohen “exposed” the fact that Auburn sold portions of its 2013 season ticket allotment to boosters when early ticket sales were slower than expected.  What a shocking revelation.

His primary point seemed to be that Auburn administration should have been so prescient  they would have anticipated the meteoric rise from 3-9 (0-8 SEC) in 2012 and held on to the tickets so they could have been sold at a higher rate late in the 2013 season when it became apparent that Auburn had a chance to win the SEC.

Perhaps Cohen has never heard of having a bird in the hand?  Suppose Auburn held on to the tickets and the season unfurled in a different manner? Chances are Cohen would have approached the so-called story by attacking the Athletic Department for not taking the money up front and being caught with a bevy of unsold tickets.

Twice in less than a year, Cohen has thrown mud at Auburn.  Well, three times if you count an equally empty followup he posted August 27.

What’s his agenda?

It’s not obviously apparent.  Cohen attended Duke. He pretty clearly adores the Blue Devils and in particular their basketball team. He was sports editor of the Duke Chronicle during his time there.

You wouldn’t think Duke and Auburn would ever cross swords, at least not to the point to make Auburn a target for Cohen’s petty wrath.

You might be wrong.  For those of you who subscribe to black helicopter theories, try this one on for size.

Cohen attended Duke from 2006 to 2010.  In his first year at the school, Duke was embroiled in one of the most sordid scandals in the history of college athletics.  Rape allegations against members of the Duke lacrosse team led to the program being disgraced, its players suspended and its season canceled.  Ultimately those allegations proved to be false, but the tawdry scandal was a black cloud over a program that prides itself on integrity and class.

Who was the chief architect of the scandal?  Which reporter fired up the allegations in a national forum and brought the light of nationwide sports media to the state of North Carolina and the Duke doorstep? Who spurred the court of public opinion to convict the athletes and tar and feather the school?

Selena Roberts. Auburn graduate Selena Roberts.

Even after her allegations were proven false, a petulant and unrepentant Roberts continued to take shots at Duke.

We know Cohen helped cover the Duke lacrosse team as part of his responsibilities at the Chronicle. We know Cohen was acutely aware of Roberts, as he called her out specifically in a column he wrote for the Chronicle in October 2008:

(Former New York Times columnist Selena Roberts penned a witty column off the controversy four years before she failed miserably in covering another.)

And Cohen now has two (or three) Auburn hit pieces under his belt in the last year?

Hmmm.

Okay, that’s probably a stretch. But there’s unquestionably an orange and blue burr under Cohen’s saddle.

Whatever the reason or agenda, Cohen’s taken two unwarranted and empty shots at Auburn since November.  His weak efforts are just the latest in an established pattern that goes back years.  Given the history, don’t expect this to be the last effort to manufacture something intended to derail the Auburn athletic program.

 

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