ESPN has a new report out claiming that there was a widespread synthetic marijuana problem at Auburn under Gene Chizik across 2010-11:
The 2010 national champion Auburn Tigers were gripped by an epidemic of synthetic marijuana use that led to a rash of failed drug tests and a decision at the highest levels of the university to keep the results confidential, ESPN has learned.
A six-month investigation by ESPN The Magazine and E:60 into the spread of synthetic marijuana at Auburn reveals that a dozen students on the football team, including its star running back, Michael Dyer, failed tests for the designer drug. The investigation also found that because the school did not implement testing for the drug until after it won the national championship in January 2011, as many as a dozen other seniors who used synthetic marijuana were never caught.
[Note: a longer, more detailed version is here.]
The star witness here is Dakota Mosley, who claims he failed seven consecutive tests for it shortly before allegedly being involved in the armed robbery that has put former teammate Antonio Goodwin in prison. It is the same incident involving Mike McNeil, who has unloaded some accusations of his own against the school this week. Goodwin claimed from jail that half the team used "spice", the street name for synthetic pot.
The NCAA ban on synthetic marijuana didn't go into effect until August of 2011, however the state of Alabama made it illegal in May of 2010. (Update: this article contradicts, saying it wasn't illegal until October 2011. Can anyone clarify here?) I can't think of one good reason why the school should not have notified parents or guardians about all of the failed tests, given that the substance is illegal in the state. The excuse, per AD Jay Jacobs:
"We did all we could do to educate our student-athletes until [we] could understand exactly what we're dealing with," Jacobs told The Magazine. "I think just like the rest of the campus, and the nation, we were trying to figure it out."
I am only aware of one other incident involving SEC teams and synthetic pot. In the fall of 2011, LSU suspended three players for synthetic pot use. Current head coach Gus Malzahn was on the Auburn staff as an assistant during this reported time of rampant synthetic pot usage.
Update, 9:15 pm ET, revised 10:50 pm
Auburn has addressed one concern:
Auburn says since it began testing for synthetic marijuana as banned substance, only 3 positive tests out of more than 2,500— Brett McMurphy (@McMurphyESPN) April 5, 2013
According to a statement by Auburn's Jacobs, the school began testing for synthetic marijuana in January 2011, added it to the drug testing policy in March 2011, and began implementing penalties for it in August 2011. The full statement can be found here.
Jacobs' statement says that Auburn requested that the drug testing company it uses deliver a test for spice in September of 2010. It says no such test existed at the time, so the school and the company worked together to create one. It also states that the school did, in fact, contact the parents who say they weren't contacted about the failed tests.
Two parents who wished to remain anonymous told Auburn's Rivals.com affiliate that they had been notified of failed tests during the time ESPN reports that no parents had been notified.
Here is Shaun Assael, the author of the ESPN piece, talking about it.
His beef seems to be that Auburn had a zone of several months between when it decided that spice might be a problem and when it actually began testing for it. Auburn's side is that its contracted company that does its drug tests didn't have a test available until January of 2011; Assael reports that a different company had such a test available as of July, 2010. The implication is that if Auburn was so serious about eradicating spice, it would have gone to this other company to get its test instead of waiting.
He seems to believe that spice led to the personal downfall of some number of players, including Mosley, Goodwin, Kitchens, and Michael Dyer. He also seems to think that the school's initial lack of testing (fall of 2010 through late January 2011) and later lack of punishments for failed tests (late January through July 2011) makes the school to some degree negligent at best and complicit at worst in these players' personal downfalls. That's the best I can make of the case he's presenting.