Glendale, AZ, USA; Auburn Tigers head coach Gene Chizik raises the national championship trophy after defeating the Oregon Ducks in the 2011 BCS National Championship game at University of Phoenix Stadium. Auburn defeated Oregon 22-19. Mandatory Credit: Richard Mackson-USA TODAY Sports
(USATODAY) -- Auburn's football program altered grades to ensure eligibility, offered "several thousand dollars" to entice would-be draft picks to return for their senior seasons and knowingly violated NCAA recruiting rules, several ex-Tigers told former New York Times and Sports Illustrated columnist Selena Roberts, whose report appeared on her Web site, Roopstigo.com
Each of the allegations occurred under coach Gene Chizik, who led Auburn to the 2010 national championship - the program's first since 1957 - but was fired after last season. He has since been replaced by Gus Malzahn, who served as Chizik's offensive coordinator from 2009-11.
According to three former players, the university changed the grades of as many as nine athletes leading into the 2011 BCS national championship game, when Auburn beat Oregon 22-19 to complete its undefeated season.
"We thought we would be without (running back) Mike Dyer because he said he was one of them, but Auburn found a way to make those dudes eligible," Mike Blanc, a multiple-year starter along the Tigers' defensive line, told Roberts. Dyer would gain a game-high 143 yards on 22 carries in Auburn's win.
Auburn coaches offered cash payments to players, for reasons varying from a potential early entry into the NFL draft to simply having "a bad day at practice," Roberts reports. Former wide receiver Darvin Adams alleged that coaches offered cash to lure him away from entering the draft; while Adams wouldn't disclose the sum, both Blanc and another former teammate, Mike McNeil, put the total at "several thousand dollars."
Said Adams: "It was like, we'll do this and that for you. But I'd rather do things the right way. I am happy I didn't say yes to that stuff. That's what I'd tell kids."
"Coaches would say, 'Don't tell anyone where you got it from,'" Blanc said. McNeil recounts a meeting with then-defensive coordinator - and current Florida coach - Will Muschamp in 2007:
"I had no clue what it was about because I'd never directly asked him for anything," McNell said. "He slid about $400 over to me. He went into a drawer and gave me money and said, 'Is this enough? Is this good?' And I said, 'Yeah, I'm good.'"
Muschamp denied making the payment through a spokesperson, Roberts said.
The coaching staff also went well beyond the NCAA's prescribed per diem when entertaining prospective recruits, said former Auburn defensive back Nieko Thorpe. He cites an instance involving star prospect Dre Kirkpatrick - an eventual Alabama signee: Auburn coaches gave student-athlete recruits $500 to entertain Kirkpatrick, while the NCAA limits such recruiting expenses to less than $50 per day.
The allegations further cloud Chizik's up-and-down tenure at the university, which reached its apex during that 2010 season but bottomed out a season ago, when the Tigers failed to win a game in SEC play for the first time since 1980.
NCAA investigators spent several weeks last fall looking into Auburn's recruiting practices, specifically digging into 2012 signee Jovon Robinson, whose Memphis-area high school transcripts were found to be forged.
Auburn came under heavy scrutiny in 2010 for its recruitment of star quarterback Cam Newton. According to an ESPN.com report, an individual purporting to represent Newton was allegedly soliciting a six-figure payment in exchange for Newton's letter of intent. While the NCAA never found any evidence of wrongdoing in the case, the investigation cast a shadow over the Tigers' otherwise sterling 2010 season.
Auburn did not respond to USA TODAY Sports' request for comment.