2011 Auburn Cost To Keep NCAA Jail Away: $401K

Thanks to breaking news reported Wednesday by Clay Travis on his new website OutkickTheCoverage.com we learned why the NCAA investigation into the Auburn football program, as Travis put it today, “has now stretched into its tenth month.”

Auburn NCAA Defense Fund

(Aubs: $170K Over 7-Day Period To Keep NCAA Jail Away From The Plains)

Travis reported that the latest round of investigatory activity took place in Montgomery in late June:

NCAA investigator Jackie Thurnes checked in to the Renaissance Hotel in downtown Montgomery and conducted interviews in conference rooms there. Thurnes investigation dealt with continuing issues surrounding the eligibilty of Cam Newton and other Auburn players implicated in pay-for-play scandals. 

Travis noted Thurnes was specifically looking into allegations made by former Auburn football players during a recent HBO Real Sports episode.  During her visit to Alabama, the NCAA investigator also attempted to confirm the validity of a separate claim that Cam Newton may have received discounts from a Montgomery-based clothier.

Of the lingering inquiry into the Auburn football program, Travis added:

The NCAA investigation has now stretched into its tenth month, leaving Auburn and SEC officials chastened. In SanDestin at the SEC spring meetings, Florida SEC Commissioner Mike Slive told me that there was no doubt the NCAA’s timeframe often conflicted with the immediacy of media coverage. That dichotomy, between media coverage of allegations and tangible proof of wrongdoing, leaves programs dwelling in a perpetual cloud of impropriety.

Often that cloud can impact recruiting, a point that was driven home to me by Tennessee football coach Derek Dooley in SanDestin. Indeed, it was Dooley’s questioning of the NCAA investigator in SanDestin that led to Chizik’s insistence on whether the NCAA had completed its investigation.

Recruiting issues may have prompted Chizik’s assertive tact, though the looting of the university’s “Auxiliary Enterprises-Athletics” fund by lawyers defending the school may too have something to do with it. Read more…

Auburn Does Right Thing: Lowder Finally Booted

In what will surely be the biggest college football news you will not hear about from the main media this summer, Alabama Senate President Del Marsh said this week that Auburn super-booster Bobby Lowder’s re-nomination for the Auburn Board of Trustees will not go through.

Bobby Lowder

Lowder, whose dubious influence on the Auburn football program has often brought disgrace to the school, has previously served on the all-powerful AU Board of Trustees for nearly three decades and has long been charged with annually formulating the school’s entire yearly budget.

But instead of a seven-year re-up, thanks to a deciding vote by Alabama Governor Robert Bentley, who recently signed off on Lowder after the Auburn powerbroker’s wife donated $25,000 to Bentley’s re-election campaign fund, Lowder’s bid for another term is officially finished.

From Friday’s BIRMINGHAM NEWS: Read more…

Confirmed: Auburn Has Spent $170,000 On Newton

Jon Solomon of the BIRMINGHAM NEWS reports today that Auburn University has - so far - spent $170,000 on behalf of Cam Newton.

Cecil Newton was at the BCS Championship Game

Those would be attorney fees in the quest to maintain Newton’s eligibilty for the completed 2010-11 season.

Sam Franklin Auburn Lead Attorney In Newton Case Repping Robert Geddie In FBI Case

(Same lawyer for Cam is Pat Dye, Bobby Lowder personal attorney)

Solomon: Read more…

A New Lowder: Forthright Reformed A.U. Devotee?

A reader recently sent me this photo of Auburn booster Bobby Lowder at the BCS Championship Game in Glendale:

Photo: Bobby Lowder at BCS Championship Game

(Hidden message in headline? Why, I had no idea)

My receipt of said image was only upon our mutual agreement that I’d post the photo after the game.

Seeing Lowder luxuriating in his proudest moment as an alumnus of Auburn got me to thinking about his much-rumored status at his alma mater.

The 30-year AU Trustee, who to this day oversees the entire Auburn University budget each year, once presided over a sprawling, Alabama-based financial empire. But that all changed in 2009, when the money center Lowder founded himself, Colonial Bank, crashed and burned, resulting in the sixth-largest bank failure in United States history.

Before his colossal business failure, which still includes a slew of legal issues that aren’t going away anytime soon, Lowder was generally regarded as the most powerful major college football booster in the country. After all, Lowder controlled a billion-dollar banking concern while simultaneously being personally entrusted the entire Auburn school budget.

But with his business career in ashes, most recently the media has begun reporting the seeming demise of Lowder’s influence at Auburn.

Bobby Lowder

(Could a booster actually run an SEC school’s entire budget? Ask Bobby.)

Most prominent of those effective eulogies was a piece by Pete Thamel of the NEW YORK TIMES. Published two days before the BCS Championship Game, the article was titled, “Auburn’s Kingmaker Isn’t Sharing in the Moment.”

Excerpts:

If No. 1 Auburn defeats No. 2 Oregon on Monday night for its first national football championship since 1957, it should be a crowning moment for Lowder. But some say his power has dwindled since his actions in 2003 helped land Auburn on academic probation by the Southern Association of Colleges and Schools, a regional accreditation agency.

… Lowder’s power has waned since the Southern Association of Colleges and Schools threatened to strip Auburn of its accreditation, citing the meddlesome trustees and their interlocking ties to Lowder as a reason for probation.

Lowder’s efforts to oust (former head football coach Tommy) Tuberville as coach failed, though Tuberville was fired after the 2008 season and replaced by Gene Chizik, his former defensive coordinator.

Thamel and his sources are not alone in their claims of erosion of Lowder’s power base. But in accounting for actual events at Auburn in recent years, there appears to be no such indication that the booster is going the way of the brontosaurus.

After the Colonial meltdown, Lowder moved from his longtime residence in Montgomery to a fulltime Auburn abode.

Since the aforementioned kerfuffle with the Southern Association of Colleges and Schools during the mid-2000s, Lowder has presided over the promotion of his personal protege, Jay Jacobs, to Auburn Athletic Director. Jacobs had been previously charged with overseeing the private “Tigers Unlimited” fundraising arm over which Lowder has long had ultimate control.

Speaking of Tigers Unlimited, Jacobs’ replacement as executive director of the organization,Tim Jackson, was noted in the BIRMINGHAM NEWS Sunday for his wide-ranging influence within the Auburn football program.

Then there’s the hiring of head football coach Gene Chizik, who was tapped to take over one of the country’s most prestigious football programs despite a career coaching record of 5-19. Chizik’s hire was met with violent opposition by the Auburn fanbase, with AD Jacobs hounded in public by hecklers aiming to humiliate him for making such a move.

As you might expect, the Chizik hire left everyone in the college football world wondering why Auburn would hire someone with a 5-19 career coaching record. Read more…

TMZ: FBI Newton Probe Linked To Auburn Booster

Earlier today I reported that noted Auburn sports booster Milton McGregor was arrested by the FBI last month on political bribery allegations following a lengthy federal investigation that included wiretaps.

Milton McGregor

(Auburn Booster Milton McGregor, wiretapped, arrested by FBI)

TMZ.com is now reporting:

According to sources connected to the probe … FBI agents looking into the Newton recruiting controversy are also asking about Milton McGregor — a dog track owner arrested last month for allegedly bribing Alabama politicians to vote pro gambling.

We’re told agents asked someone connected to the Newton case if he was familiar with McGregor or the bribery scandal.

As I reported this morning, also arrested last month in the same FBI wiretap investigation was prominent Alabama lobbyist and Auburn alumnus Robert Geddie. Read more…

What if a Booster Ran an SEC School’s Budget?

On January 12, 2006, Mike Fish of ESPN.com published a lengthy piece on the “most powerful boosters” in college sports. At the top of the list was Oregon’s Phil Knight, Oklahoma State’s T. Boone Pickens and Auburn’s Bobby Lowder.

Bobby Lowder

(At Auburn, failed banker, megabooster Bobby Lowder oversees school budget)

Lowder is the former CEO and chairman of Colonial Bancgroup, a banking empire he founded in 1981. In 2009, Alabama-based Colonial was the largest bank failure in the United States and sixth-biggest bank failure in U.S. history. Lowder’s company was seized by Federal regulators in a collapse that reportedly cost the FDIC $2.8 billion.

In the aftermath of the Colonial failure, last month the OPELIKA-AUBURN NEWS reported:

The feds (FBI) are moving forward quickly toward prosecution of some 50 bank executives and directors of failed banks to recover as much as $1 billion paid out by the Federal Deposit Insurance Corporation.

Lowder is being personally sued by Colonial employees for $50 million for alleged mismanagement of their retirement funds and the FBI has alleged that Colonial executives committed financial fraud totaling $1.9 billion. FORTUNE Senior Editor Brian O’Keefe also noted another Federal investigation of Lowder’s Colonial:

Perhaps most worrying for Lowder is an investigation by the FBI and the Office of the Special Inspector General for the Troubled Asset Relief Program into Colonial’s so-called warehouse-lending business.

Colonial applied for $550 million in TARP funds last fall but was never cleared to receive a bailout. On Aug. 3, just 11 days before regulators shut down Colonial, agents raided the bank’s offices in downtown Orlando, where the warehouse lending was managed, and spent hours carting away boxes of documents.

After the Colonial meltdown, Lowder “retired” from his post at the bank. Despite the public ignominy that befell his finance career, Lowder continues to retain his seat on Auburn Board of Trustees. As the longest tenured member of the board, Lowder currently chairs the finance committee that oversees Auburn University entire budget - which includes the Auburn athletic department.

Of Lowder’s role at Auburn, Fortune’s O’Keefe wrote in 2009:

“His name might not be familiar outside Alabama, but he is easily one of the most feared, loathed, and some say misunderstood men to wield power in this state since George Wallace — the governor who first appointed him to the board in 1983.

“… Lowder has been accused of making backroom deals with governors and treating the Auburn football program like a private fiefdom. (Because of his influence over Auburn’s athletic program, three years ago ESPN named him the most powerful booster in college sports.)”

The BIRMINGHAM NEWS reported that some of the “big losers” in Lowder’s Colonial bank “dive” were former Auburn football coach Pat Dye and prominent Auburn booster and gambling business magnate Milton McGregor. McGregor reportedly owned $19 million in Colonial stock at one point. Lowder reportedly had many of his high-powered Auburn acquaintances, including McGregor, appointed to the Colonial Board of Directors.

As owner of the state’s largest electronic bingo casino, VictoryLand, Milton McGregor is one of the highest-profile Auburn boosters in the state. In 2008, he donated $1 million toward construction of the new Auburn basketball arena.

The morning of October, 4, 2010, the BIRMINGHAM NEWS reported:

FBI agents swept across Alabama this morning arresting state lawmakers and lobbyists as part of a federal probe into efforts to pass gambling legislation last spring.

The biggest name arrested so far has been VictoryLand owner Milton McGregor, who was arrested at his Montgomery home this morning.

Before McGregor was arrested by FBI agents, the Birmingham News reported of the ongoing investigation on May 7, 2010:

Sources familiar with the investigation have said the probe has included the use of wiretaps, and several lawmakers agreed to wear wires to capture the conversations between themselves, other lawmakers and lobbyists. Read more…