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Wild swings of fate await Auburn basketball

By By Joseph Goodman /

Auburn’s spring practice is underway, but the most compelling questions down on The Plains aren’t about the new football coach or even football at all.

Football can wait. The immediate future of another sport is more important.

It’s time for answers from the Keystone Cops of the NCAA. Namely, what the heck is going to happen to Auburn basketball now that the Tigers’ season is over? Absolutely nothing would be the preferred answer, but the longer the NCAA’s investigation drags on the longer it invites worry.

Just blink twice, NCAA, if Sharife Cooper should definitely stay for another year.

Cooper is Auburn’s acclaimed freshman point guard who has the ability to turn pro for the upcoming NBA Draft, but might be compelled to stay at Auburn for another season if he only knew for certain it would be worth it.

Did Auburn’s gamble this season of a self-imposed postseason ban fulfill its future punishment from the NCAA, or is more coming? It feels like Bruce Pearl and his Tigers are being held hostage, and every day the NCAA looks more and more like a carnival of the absurd.

Both Auburn and Alabama were tied to the 2017 FBI investigation into college basketball, and Alabama received its punishment before this current season even started. Alabama was fined and is currently serving a three-year probation. Additionally, a former staffer was given a 10-year show-cause penalty.

Is Auburn going to be treated harsher than Alabama by the NCAA even after self-imposing a one-year postseason ban? It shouldn’t be unless there’s something else that the NCAA has discovered. It has been three-and-a-half years already, or enough time for Auburn to distance itself from former assistant coach Chuck Person, make a run to the Final Four for the ages and then self impose.

And yet the NCAA Committee on Infractions still lingers above Bruce Pearl’s head.

While Alabama is celebrating one of its greatest teams of all-time on the eve of the NCAA Tournament, Auburn remains stuck in some kind of bizarre indefinite limbo. The wild swings of fate for Auburn based upon the NCAA’s ongoing investigation into the program are beyond extreme.

Auburn has the potential to have a national title contender next season if everything works out in the Tigers’ favor, but let’s get on with it.

SEC commissioner Greg Sankey foresaw all of this back in December when he sent a six-page letter to the NCAA telling its people to stop dragging their feet.

“Across Division I, we are now experiencing numerous high-profile infractions matters that have lingered for more than three years prior to any outcome being publicly announced,” Sankey wrote in a letter that was first reported by Sports Illustrated. “To my knowledge, several of these matters are not close to completion

“The current timelines must be viewed as unacceptable, and rapid change is needed such that appropriate accountability is applied in a timely manner.”

Sankey went on to prophesy a “crisis of confidence” in the NCAA. Well, now we’re certainly at that point if we weren’t already.

Could Auburn signee Jabari Smith even dunk when the NCAA first learned about Person’s involvement with a FBI informant back in 2017?

Person was taking bribes to steer Auburn players to a financial advisor who was working undercover for the feds. It seems like so long ago because it was, in fact, so long ago.

“Despite numerous reviews, working groups, task forces and commissions, the enforcement and infractions process continues to present meaningful challenges affecting member relations and public relations while raising concerns that, if left unaddressed, will emerge as a crisis of confidence,” Sankey said in his letter to the NCAA in December

Is Congress going to pass legislation allowing players to profit off of NIL deals before this investigation into paying players is complete? Glacial speed is too fast for the NCAA’s reviewers, and what a mess they’ve created since farming out “complex” cases to the private sector. Two words: billable hours.

If Auburn is in the clear after this season, then Cooper has an important decision to make over the next month. Return to school and the Tigers could have a shot at a special season in 2021-2022. Cooper’s entire year has been a bust because of the pandemic and the NCAA investigations, so experiencing a normal college life before turning pro has to be appealing.

Auburn Arena is going to be bonkers next season if that happens. Well, check that. Auburn Arena is going to be bonkers either way. Still, a partial but vocal crowd was chanting for Cooper to return after Auburn’s final home game, and I hope he heard that passion. The pros can wait especially if Cooper isn’t a lock to be a lottery pick. Most recently, he was projected as a late first-round pick.

This is how you know Auburn is a bona fide basketball school. Even when it doesn’t even make the NCAA Tournament, the buzz surrounding the team trumps everything else.

Oh, and there’s this. Kentucky media is speculating that Auburn player Justin Powell, who has reportedly entered the transfer portal, could be headed for Lexington. Players are leaving Auburn now for a better opportunity at Kentucky? That would be a development, and either a really good sign for the Tigers, or another reason to worry.

With Auburn, it’s sometimes tough to tell.

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