Tag Archives: Auburn University

Auburn Justice: The Serious Issue Facing Former Auburn Football Player Mike McNeil

Selena Roberts’ serious allegations against the Auburn athletics department earlier this week caused an uproar among members of the media and college football fans. If true, the story’s accusations of rampant drug use by football players, coaches handing players money under the table and academic officials changing football players’ grades to ensure their eligibility, are enough to turn Auburn athletics on its head. Tucked away in the story, though, is an issue more pressing and with greater possible harm than any NCAA sanction can impose. It is one that may cost former Auburn football player, Mike McNeil, his freedom.

McNeil is currently facing trial on two felony counts of first-degree robbery. The charges stem from allegations that four former Auburn football players robbed a home while armed. While building allegations of Auburn’s alleged athletic improprieties to a crescendo, Roberts quickly slipped a fact into her story that a trained legal eye would not let go unnoticed. Eight paragraphs into Roberts’ Auburn expose, was the following quote,

“To show you how innocent he is, Mike is willing to go to trial because he says he didn’t do it,” says Ben Hand, who recently was dismissed as McNeil’s attorney after the family formally complained that he had a conflict of interest. “Mike McNeil didn’t rob anyone.”

As it turns out, McNeil’s attorney previously represented a man who lived in the house that McNeil allegedly robbed. In the legal world, this is called a “conflict of interest.” And in the legal world, a conflict of interest is a reason for which a criminal defendant can appeal the outcome of his case, should he be convicted.

Roberts’ assertion in her article that Hand was dismissed as McNeil’s attorney is incorrect. That is because today, the Auburn educated judge hearing McNeil’s case ruled that Hand could not withdraw as counsel for McNeil’s case. Rather, McNeil’s case will proceed to trial next Monday.

At that trial, McNeil faces three options when it comes to legal representation. The first, is to be represented by a lawyer who once represented someone whose home McNeil allegedly robbed. The second is for McNeil, without a college degree, to represent himself in a felony case in which he faces 21 years to life in prison. The third option, is for McNeil to hire a new attorney who will assist his conflicted attorney. That attorney will have 72 hours to prepare for a trial that took the prosecution nearly two years to bring to fruition.

Arguably, there is not an attractive choice present in this bunch. As depicted above, Hand has maintained McNeil’s innocence to the media and will likely advocate zealously for him. Additionally, the presiding judge in McNeil’s case, in ruling that Hand cannot withdraw from the case, determined that the prosecution will only proceed to trial against McNeil on two charges, as opposed to the seven charges he was originally facing. This was based upon the judge’s finding that conflicts existed between Hand and those charges, but were not present in the two charges McNeil continues to face. Regardless of these facts, questions likely persist in McNeil’s mind as to whether his attorney bears any biases towards him and if he will receive a fair shot at justice.

As the time on the clock dwindles down to McNeil’s trial date, a review of 11th Circuit (the circuit in which Alabama is located) and Supreme Court case law is necessary. One basis upon which a defendant can appeal his conviction is for ineffective assistance of counsel. The United States Supreme Court has ruled that a criminal defendant’s right to effective assistance of counsel is violated where a defendant’s attorney has an actual conflict of interest that affects the defendant adversely. Something is an actual conflict of interest when a lawyer has inconsistent interests. 11th circuit case law says that a conflict of interest exists when a defendant can point to specific instances in the record to suggest an actual conflict or impairment of interest. Specific instances could include an attorney choosing to elicit or failing to elicit evidence helpful to one client but harmful to another.

The question here, then, is does Hand have inconsistent interests when it comes to representing McNeil? While Hand represented a resident of the home McNeil allegedly robbed, that representation came on an unrelated matter that occurred prior to the alleged robbery. Given the differential between the matters and the time that has passed sense, does an actual conflict exist?

If an actual conflict of interest existed, case law also requires that the conflict adversely affected the counsel’s performance in order to successfully appeal on the basis of ineffective assistance of counsel. A defendant must show three things to prove an adverse effect: 1. That the defense attorney could have pursued a plausible alternative strategy, 2. that the alternative strategy was reasonable and 3. that the alternative strategy was not followed because it conflicted with the attorney’s external loyalties.

At this stage, only McNeil and Hand know what alternative strategies exist, if any. And at this stage, it is likely that they are the only two people who know why one defense strategy was chosen over another.

Should McNeil be convicted and wish to appeal his case, the real question that may persist is whether he waived his right to conflict-free counsel. A defendant waives his right to conflict-free counsel when he chooses to proceed to trial with an attorney who has an adverse conflict of interest. Arguably, this decision could bar an appeal on this issue, as the Supreme Court case of Johnson v. Zerbst found that a “waiver of the right to conflict-free counsel ‘disposes of the need to evaluate the actual or potential ineffectiveness of counsel caused by the alleged conflicts of interests.’” To demonstrate a waiver, it must be shown that the defendant was aware of the conflict, recognized it could impact his defense and knew of his right to obtain other counsel. Notably, today, the presiding judge in McNeil’s case advised him of his right to proceed to trial without an attorney or with a new attorney to assist Hand. It is to be seen what decision McNeil makes.

Many unknowns face Mike McNeil at this moment. The decisions facing McNeil as his trial approaches are lofty. Truth be told, they are likely as big as the choice he made to commit to playing football at Auburn University.

Follow Alicia Jessop on Twitter @RulingSports.

How Much Did the BCS Top 25 Spend on Recruiting?

As I continue to write about the financial aspect of college athletics, I find myself wondering about things like how much money plays a role in winning. Is there one place where you can spend more money and increase your odds of competing for a championship? Or is the Athletic Director more of a conductor choosing which instruments to highlight and when in order to produce the best sounding symphony?

I thought it would be interesting to see how much spending on recruiting plays a role in football success. The numbers reflect recruiting expenses for the 2009-2010 school year.

One thing to note is that recruiting dollars are not broken down by sport, so the numbers you see below reflect the total amount spent on recruiting for all male athletes. Since football has the largest recruiting class and we can safely presume most schools spend the majority of their recruiting dollars on football, I think the numbers still paint an interesting picture.

Below you will see recruiting dollars spent during the 2009-2010 school year for each school in the 2010 BCS final standings, when presumably the athletes recruited with 2009-2010 dollars were then members of the team:

  School Recruiting Expenses % of Total Expenses
1 Auburn $1,129,984.00 1.24%
2 Oregon $844,235.00 1.29%
3 TCU $438,422.00 0.84%
4 Stanford $754,689.00 0.92%
5 Wisconsin $473,897.00 0.53%
6 Ohio State $676,966.00 0.65%
7 Oklahoma $1,010,570.00 1.14%
8 Arkansas $1,187,216.00 1.65%
9 Michigan State $677,958.00 1.10%
10 Boise State $158,355.00 0.63%
11 LSU $741,762.00 0.73%
12 Missouri $596,738.00 1.12%
13 Virginia Tech $625,207.00 1.24%
14 Oklahoma State $414,655.00 0.69%
15 Nevada $216,920.00 1.00%
16 Alabama $1,257,128.00 1.47%
17 Texas A&M $532,641.00 0.77%
18 Nebraksa $685,361.00 1.00%
19 Utah $466,532.00 1.46%
20 South Carolina $565,967.00 0.72%
21 Mississippi State $416,333.00 1.15%
22 West Virginia  $669,844.00 1.18%
23 Florida State $581,923.00 0.77%
24 Hawaii $272,078.00 0.93%
25 UCF $354,264.00 0.99%
       
  Averages $629,985.80 1.01%

Boise State is spending the paltry sum of $158,355, which is just 25% of the average. Only 26 of the 115 on the Broncos 2010 roster hailed from Idaho, with a huge percentage coming from as far away as California and Texas. Impressive that Boise State recruits so well on such a limited budget.

As an interesting side note, Boise State spends nearly as much on female recruiting as male, with female recruiting costs coming in at $123,287. That’s 44% of the total recruiting expenditures. Compare that to the leader for male recruiting expenses on this chart, Alabama, who only spends 26% of their recruiting expenditures on female recruiting. To complete the data needed for comparison, Alabama has 10 women’s teams and Boise State has 9 (with all track-related sports combined into one in each total).

The other thing that stood out to me was that Utah spent above average in terms of the percent of their total expenses advanced towards recruiting. In fact, they rank fourth overall in terms of percentage of total expenses spent on male recruiting. I was also surprised to see Ohio State and Michigan State from the Big Ten spending so much less than Alabama, Arkansas and Auburn from the SEC. The latter three make up the top three spenders overall on the list. Did this help them in their quest to move from a non-AQ conference to an AQ conference?

What surprised you from this list? If your school is on this list, how do you feel about what’s being spent on recruiting?

Which SEC Alumni Have the Deepest Pockets?

I’ve shown you which SEC schools are making the most from football, but which athletic departments are making the most from donor contributions?

  School Contributions % of Total Revenue
1 University of Florida $39,350,660.00 34%
2 Louisiana State University $38,255,521.00 34%
3 University of Alabama $33,739,056.00 26%
4 Auburn University $29,731,122.00 32%
5 University of Tennessee $27,936,952.00 24%
6 University of Georgia $27,354,228.00 30%
7 University of South Carolina $23,987,283.00 30%
8 University of Kentucky $13,161,669.00 17%
9 University of Arkansas $13,124,754.00 17%
10 University of Mississippi $5,375,438.00 12%
11 Mississippi State University $0.00 0%

Note that Vanderbilt’s numbers are not available because it is a private institution and not subject to open records requests.

I’m guessing one of the first things you noticed was Mississippi State not showing any contributions for the 2009-2010 school year. I spoke with Steve Corhern, the Assistant AD for Business Operations at Mississippi State University, and asked why they had shown contributions in past years but not in 2009-2010. Turns out it’s good news: Continue reading

UGA

Who’s Making Money in SEC Football?

Is your team turning a profit in its athletic department? Is it spending in line with its revenue? Could this have any effect on performance on the field? Thanks to a federal statute requiring all colleges and universities that receive Title IV funding (federal student aid) to report the financials for their athletic department, I have the answers for you. (See the Note at the end for more information on this data.)

First, let’s take a look at how the schools rank in terms of revenue for just the football program. For added comparison, I have put each school’s stadium capacity next to their name, since that would have a direct effect on their ability to bring in revenue:

    Stadium Capacity Football Revenue
1 Univ. of Alabama 101,821 $71,884,525.00
2 Univ. of Georgia 92,746 $70,838,539.00
3 Louisiana State Univ. 92,400 $68,819,806.00
4 Univ. of Florida 88,548 $68,715,750.00
5 Auburn Univ. 87,451 $66,162,720.00
6 Univ. of South Carolina 80,250 $58,266,159.00
7 Univ. of Tennessee 102,037 $56,593,946.00
8 Univ. of Arkansas 76,000 $48,524,244.00
9 Univ. of Kentucky 67,606 $31,890,572.00
10 Univ. of Mississippi 60,580 $28,409,774.00
11 Mississippi State Univ. 55,082 $14,551,275.00
12 Vanderbilt Univ. 41,448 $14,152,061.00

I’m sure it comes as no surprise to see perennial contenders like LSU, Florida and Alabama at the top. 

Now let’s take a look at who the big spenders are: Continue reading

Heisman Trophy Winner Cam Newton

Why is Cam Newton Not Guilty of SEC Bylaws Violation?

After hearing multiple talk radio personalities declare that Cam Newton clearly violated an SEC bylaw, I thought I’d put my lawyer hat on and try to make some sense of this situation.  First, let’s take a look at the bylaw everyone is pointing to in this situation:

If at any time before or after matriculation in a member institution a student-athlete or any member of his/her family receives or agrees to receive, directly or indirectly, any aid or assistance beyond or in addition to that permitted by the Bylaws of this Conference (except such aid or assistance as such student-athlete may receive from those persons on whom the student is naturally or legally dependent for support), such student- athlete shall be ineligible for competition in any intercollegiate sport within the Conference for the remainder of his/her college career.

Those highlighted words – “receives or agrees to receive” – are the key here, and I see why it’s confusing to some.  This is one of those times that my three years and mountain of law school debt actually pays off.

When I first heard that the SEC had declared there was no violation, but first thought was that they must be interpreting this provision in terms of contract law.  It’s logical to read “agrees to receive” and think, “Hey, Cam’s father told Mississippi State he would take x amount of money for Cam to go to school there; that’s agreeing to receive.”  Not in the world of contract law, however.

In contract law, Cecil Newton’s statements were merely an offer, or perhaps a solicitation for bids.  An offer is a manifestation of willingness to enter into a bargain.  Basically, you’re saying to the other person, ”If you’re willing to do x, then y will happen.”

In order to have a completed contract, one party has to make an offer, the other has to accept (on the same terms proposed by the offer) and there must be consideration (the money actually changing hands would have been consideration).

Cecil Newton made an offer, which Mississippi State was free to accept (and create a contract), but did not.  Alternatively, you could say Cecil Newton was merely soliciting bids, which doesn’t even constitute an offer.  In that case, Mississippi State would have had to make the offer and then Cecil could have accepted.

I found this quote from SEC spokesman, Charles Bloom, in The Clarion-Ledger that confirms my suspicions about why there was no violation here:

SEC Bylaw 14.01.3.2 does not apply in this situation. It only applies when there is an actual payment of an improper benefit, or an agreement (such as a handshake agreement) to pay and receive an improper benefit. The facts in this case, as we understand them, are that the student-athlete’s father, without the knowledge of the student-athlete, solicited improper payments (which were rejected) from an institution the young man did not attend, and that the institution where the young man is enrolled was not involved.

Notice I highlighted “agreement” – they’re looking for a completed contract.  Could they have worded the bylaw better and made it a violation for a student-athlete or his parent to solicit an offer?  Of course, and I would imagine that’s what they’re planning to do now that they’re saying they’re going to revisit the provision. This is absolutely a loophole they need to close.

Could they have interpreted this bylaw differently and declared Cam Newton in violation because of his father’s actions?  Sure, but they would have opened themselves to a lawsuit by Cam and possibly Auburn.  The decision may defy logic for some, but it was absolutely the decision the SEC  had to make in order to protect itself.