Mike McNeil can detail how the culture of big-time football works in a fast-growing community of 53,000 under the thumb of its major industry: Auburn University athletics. In an economic impact survey by the school in 2007, the report stated: “a conservative estimate of Auburn football’s direct visitor expenditures is more than $79.6 million during seven home events. That spending generates some $173 million in economic impact.” The university tentacles reach everywhere as the leading employer in Lee County. Chris Hughes, the judge who is scheduled to sit on the bench at Mike’s trial next week, is an Auburn University alumnus. According to his website, he once worked at the university coliseum and his sister is an Auburn University professor. The school is a massive construction zone these days thanks to public funding and the largesse of wealthy alumni, many of whom sit in luxury boxes at Jordan-Hare Stadium, seating capacity 87,451.
As part of the BCS-dominant SEC, Auburn athletics feeds off the more than $3 billion earned by the conference through network and cable TV deals and will be part of an incoming stream of millions more with the SEC TV Network set to launch in 2014. “They recruit you by telling you what you want to hear: You’re family; you’re like a son to me,” says Mike. “But the reality is your class schedule is planned around football, not the other way around. It’s a business and there are players on the payroll.”
McNeil is not alone in understanding how Auburn football operates as an underground society beneath the NCAA’s radar. “Auburn does whatever Auburn wants,” says Thorpe. In interviews with more than a dozen players from the BCS title team, a portrait emerges of a championship tainted by allegations suggesting a program going off the rails. … Read More