Auburn Times story reeks in many ways

Published 12:00 am Thursday, July 20, 2006

Can you believe it? Reports of college athletes receiving good grades for doing little work at Auburn have surfaced, on the front page of The New York Times nonetheless, and the topic has dominated the sports-talk airwaves ever since.

But what's new about college athletes from coast to coast not having to abide by the same standards as regular students in the academic world? Nothing.

The recent story, written by Pete Thamel, first broke when Auburn officials proactively released a statement addressing academic improprieties and it was made known on several talk shows that The Times would publish the investigative piece the next day.

The 16,400-word story originated with Thamel contending he was working on a piece about academic facilities for athletic departments. Thamel gained access to the university under the guise of the facilities story, since Auburn has a new academic center for its athletes, and then said he stumbled upon the real story at Auburn: academic fraud.

Thamel discovered through Auburn sociology professor James Gundloch that another professor in the department, Thomas Petee, had conducted more than 250 independent studies courses during 2004-2005. Included in those more than 250 students were 18 football players.

In the most recent NCAA academic ratings, Auburn ranked third, ahead of any other public university-thus-controversy is born.

The news that any professor at any university anywhere is directing more than 250 independent studies classes in one academic year is extremely disturbing, and adding in student-athletes makes it that much worse.

Petee's blatant disregard for the academic well being of his students should not be tolerated and the professor should be terminated for it.

University officials have been investigating the case for more than a month now and have yet to come to a conclusion.

So why would Gundloch go outside of the university to an entity like The Times to seek exposure?

Is Gundloch seeking some type of fame or retribution for past grievances?

Was Thamel turned onto the story by fellow Times reporter Warren St. John, who pinned the best-selling book &#8220Rammer Jammer” and even posted on an Alabama Internet message board about the recent story days before it broke?

Would this story exist had Auburn gone 0-13 during the 2004 season instead of 13-0?

Is the real story the grades of the more than 230 non-football players that took Petee's independent study during 2004-2005 or were those more than 230 lured to the class to protect the 18 players?

Whatever the real truth may be, we'll probably never know.

With tuition costs at an all time, taking those more than 230 students' money for a class they got nothing from is the biggest crime of all.

Austin Phillips is The Greenville Advocate sports editor.

You can contact him by e-mailing or by calling 382-3111 ext. 122.