For Love of the Game … and Auburn

A few years ago, our season tickets were near the top row of the northern end zone. As one OOC easy victory winded down, we started to leave.

The stands were quickly clearing out, but I saw a father and son still in their seats, in Auburn jerseys and hats. As they watched, the father was explaining the game to his son.

To many of us, this was a rest stop between important games and an excuse for an early escape. My guess was that for these two Auburn fans, it was their best chance to get affordable tickets, and a moment that they were going to share until 0:00.

Now, during at least one of those games, I like to wander our section and see if I can find some fans like that. College football has become a high-ticket juggernaut all around, pricing itself out of reach of many fans.

But these fans came to watch Alabama State, and they shared a moment. I’d like to introduce you to a few of them.

(Before I do, I promise to put to rest the “sidewalk alumni” snobbery from here on out. A lot of these folks did not go to Auburn, but they are still fans. They are family.)

This is Burt from Leeds and his three kids. Mom is at home; No. 4 is a month away.

Burt has been coming to Auburn games since he was 7, during the Pat Dye era. His father worked with coach Rodney Garner’s father.

(And check out his son’s Auburn socks.)

Burt and his kids also brought good luck. I was walking to the game as I met him, and we scored a ride on a cart. That also meant they got there in time to see the eagle fly.

This is Tony (right), his brother, Devin, and their niece, Shay, from Notasulga.

Tony sat in front of us and had a great time talking football during the game. He got his tickets through a friend who was working the game.

That is a Notasulga jersey Devin is wearing. He told me that he is a fan of both Auburn and Alabama. Good luck with that.

This is John and his son, Max, from Prattville.

John got his tickets through his boss. They might have moved down from the upper level to these seats.

Note the matching Auburn t-shirt/sunglasses combo. Sharing Auburn style to go with their Auburn fandom.

This is Chris, from Canton, Georgia. He brought four young ladies with him.

His daughters are on the outside; his nieces are the two on the inside. Chris had just made a major investment in cotton candy.

It was the nieces’ first Auburn game. When the older one heard I taught journalism, we talked writing for a while. We might have recruited an English major. Make that two — his daughter sitting between us is a reading fanatic.

This is Daniel and his son, Dawson, from Heflin. Daniel also got his tickets through his boss.

Daniel is an Auburn fan, but his sport is basketball, so we also talked Bryce Brown and Austin Wiley.

While I was talking to them, Auburn fumbled a punt that led to Alabama State’s only touchdown.

I feared my project was bringing bad luck, but Daniel assured me that the game was well in hand.

One father did decline to participate, which is totally acceptable, of course. I approached them because his son was taking a selfie of them with the game behind them. Dad explained, “That was for Mom.”

I also talked to a mother and son who sat next to me in empty seats early in the game. It turned out they have season tickets, but they gave them to other fans so they could help a friend with her food booth. They were sneaking out for a break to watch part of the first quarter. Hash tag Busted.

Disclosure: Given the late starting time and long drive home, not all of these folks made it to the alma mater. But they were able to spend a day together, sharing in the Auburn football experience and its memorable moments.

 

 

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The Foy Fix

Auburn folks believe in honoring the legacy of Dean of Students James Foy, if response to my blog post on the topic is any indication. Both readership and comments reflected respect and affection for the Auburn icon.

With that in mind, I wanted to do more than complain (as much as that seems to be the SOP for someone my age). So here are some ideas on how the Foy Sportsmanship Trophy ceremony–and other things on campus–can reflect the man who served for 28 years as an advocate for students on campus.

1/Put ODK, not SGA, in charge. The two schools’ SGA leadership inserted themselves into the event after it was started by Omicron Delta Kappa, the senior leadership honorary that was so important to Dean Foy during his years at Auburn.

Not surprisingly, this also coincided with the addition of president speeches and the singing of the fight song, and the degeneration of the event into a rude boo-fest.

Glenn Richey, a faculty member in the Harbert College of Business, witnessed it firsthand when he served as ODK faculty secretary at Alabama. “I remember being on the court with Dean Foy and enduring a group of fans in Coleman Coliseum booing heavily during the trophy presentation,” he told me in an email exchange.

Auburn fans responded the same way in the most recent “ceremony,” even with a Foy family member present.

Returning it to ODK leadership would be the first step in restoring the ceremony’s original focus–honoring a man who graduated at Alabama, led Auburn’s student affairs office for nearly three decades and sought to keep the rivalry from, well, what it has become.

2/A film tribute to Dean Foy. Rather than speeches and a fight song, use the time for a film tribute. As with many Auburn traditions, my guess is that the students don’t know who Dean Foy is and what he stood for, and the SGA president speeches have done little to inform them.

When Auburn honors a former athlete, they often do so with a brief film that incorporates highlights of the athlete’s career.  Certainly a similar informative film could be produced to let viewers know about what Dean Foy means to Auburn.

That would also set an appropriate tone for such an observance, compared to the current conduct at the ceremony.  “It became an big enough issue that the Alabama Athletic Department and Coach Saban became very unhappy as they considered it poor sportsmanship to put the Auburn students on the spot,” Richey said. “They even suggested the event be moved to A-Day or the team not attending the event at all.”

To avoid that happening, Richey said, the two SGAs compromised, and the “tradition” of the other SGA president leading the singing of the fight song was eliminated. So while Auburn’s SGA president handled the singing correctly, it symbolized a program that has spiraled far from its original intent.

3/Keep it simple. After the film, the ODK representatives of the school that did not win the Iron Bowl presents the Sportsmanship Trophy to the ODK chapter of the school that won, with the Foy family representative accepting it on behalf of the school. The winning school can perform its own cheer.

And we’re done.

A simple ceremony, with a touch of school spirit but centering on an individual’s legacy at rival schools.

And since we’re on the subject, let me add one final talking point:

4/Once and for all, can we name the Student Center for Dean Foy? That requires too many sub-points to explain here, but it’s always worth mentioning.

He deserves it.

When to Panic

When the recent ESPN report on Auburn came out, it was quickly accompanied by the usual wailing and gnashing and harbinging of doom.

The article did catch my attention, I’ll admit. But before I reacted, I decided to read through it. Then I read through it again.

My response?

At least for now, that restraint was justified, as no new developments emerged to increase the need for panic.

But rather than go deep on one article, I’ll explain the info standards I follow before inducing panic using several examples. Yes, some stories have sent me into a funk. Others pass without justifying much beyond a shrug and a shake of the head.

So here is a guide on when to panic and when to shrug.

I. Single anonymous source: Attention only

This applies both to this week’s story and to Kevin Scarbinsky’s story about a conference call to fire Jay Jacobs.  Anonymous sourcing is allowed within ethical journalism, but the accepted standard is two anonymous sources.

Scarbinsky’s article relied on one anonymous source. Regardless of how credible that source might be, it’s safer to get two, even if one merely confirms the information without adding to it.

So while I found the Scarbinsky article interesting, if objectionable on other grounds, I adopted the wait and see attitude.  What we saw was a denial from Auburn President Dr. Steven Leath and nothing further.

Similarly, the ESPN report included one anonymous source. I did note that Auburn itself served as the other source, confirming the situation, but that’s an unusual case.

That Auburn would confirm it, rather than offer the “personnel issues” perceived stonewall, was also a source of assurance on the story for Auburn fans, but that’s another interesting side to it.

It seems that the Auburn athletics department has followed a strategy of “aggressive transparency” on certain stories, similar to their response when Shawn Assael of ESPN focused on Dakota Mosley, in his article on the 2011 arrest of four Auburn players.

When they have nothing to hide, they don’t act like they do.  They seem to realize that in such cases, openness solves more problems than a stonewalling approach avoids.

II. Named source/AU beat involvement: Moderate concern

Now, when a source is willing to openly attach his/her name to information, that takes it to a different level (and a single credible named source is acceptable in such cases).

The individual might have an unfair ax to grind, but when they grind the ax publicly, it takes the concern to a higher level.

I think about the 2006 NY Times report about the misuse of sociology independent studies.  Jim Gundlach, a sociology professor, was credited as the source of the information.  And ultimately it was worth worrying about.

This was an important story, and for all the grief he received, I give Dr. Gundlach a lot of credit for bringing it to light.  It was a UNC-level academic problem that needed to be addressed, and it was appropriately problematic for Auburn’s academic reputation. (Yes, I will die on this hill.)

So when that story came out, yes, it deserved our attention. It was bad. As I recall, I first heard about it on the WSFA evening news (this was 2006, after all), and I realized I was eventually standing in front of the TV and yelling at it.

Another consideration: take note of how the Auburn beat writers follow up on the story. Auburn is blessed with some top-notch journalism pros covering the athletics programs.

I know fans wish they would be as passive as the beat writers covering other CFB programs.  But given their aggressiveness (which ultimately is a positive), their response to such stories will let you know if something is there.

When such stories come out, regardless, all of the Auburn outlets will link to it and summarize it. They’re expected to, even if the process seems like a waste of time.

They might add an official reply from Athletics or Auburn University, but beyond that, they don’t consider the juice worth the squeeze.  That is an indication of how far the story could go and could allay your fears.

Now, if their reporting starts to uncover their own layers to the story, you might want to pay attention.  The concern level is likely to rise from moderate and approach panic.

III. Indictments/arrests: Panic

When the U.S. Attorney’s office in NYC announced that Chuck Person was indicted on a variety of charges, yeah, it was bad.  I won’t go much beyond that in discussing this case, since much is yet to be revealed.

No one knows where that case is going to end up, but yeah–when it reaches that stage, it’s bad. It’s for real.

So how to respond?

I did see a lot of anger and frustration once the ESPN report published. As time went on, and the first wave was the only wave, it was replaced by indignation and anger directed at the writers, particularly Mark Schlabach (some of it justified, but not all of it fair).

My main concern is when we assign face value to such journalistic transactions, and it overvalues the information given.

If it doesn’t involve federal or state charges or a named source, it might be worth waiting on.  That way, if it goes no further, you’ll ride a straight line from mellow to mellow, with no frantic, unnecessary up-then-down detour in between.