AUBURN, Ala. — Auburn athletic director Jay Jacobs said he has no reservations about erecting a statue for Cam Newton while an NCAA investigation continues and expressed confidence that Auburn will ultimately be cleared of any wrongdoing.
Jacobs points to comments from NCAA President Mark Emmert, who said "there was no evidence that money had changed hands and there was no evidence that Auburn University had anything to do with it."
"Out of respect for the NCAA process, technically it's still an open issue," Jacobs said. "But when Dr. Emmert, the president of the NCAA, comes out in February that he's found no wrongdoing on Auburn's part, I'm not sure how you can be any more confident than that.
"And no circumstances have changed since then."
If the Newton saga hasn't been officially closed, Jacobs at least takes that statement as indicative of a happy ending.
The NCAA cleared the Heisman Trophy winner and No. 1 NFL draft pick to play for the Tigers in the Southeastern Conference and national championship games — when Auburn briefly declared him ineligible — after finding that Newton's father, Cecil, had solicited money from Mississippi State during the recruiting process.
NCAA spokeswoman Stacey Osburn said Wednesday that Emmert's comments were only related to the reinstatement decision. She said that a school is notified when an investigation is closed.
Jacobs spoke to The Associated Press Tuesday about a wide range of issues for an athletic program that won a national championship in football in January while dealing with the NCAA investigation.
He also said Auburn is "pretty close" to a new deal with football coach Gene Chizik that Jacobs said will be competitive with other prominent Southeastern Conference coaches as Alabama's Nick Saban ($4.7 million annually) and LSU's Les Miles ($3.75 million).
Auburn will put up statues of its Heisman winners Bo Jackson, Pat Sullivan and Newton — who was drafted No. 1 by the Carolina Panthers — during the upcoming school year. The monument to Newton did raise questions pending closure by the NCAA in the case.
"Typically, they don't say there's a closed issue because they never know what tomorrow holds," he said. "Any circumstance can change."
And other issues can surface.
Jacobs said Birmingham attorney William King is "still looking into" a March report by HBO that included four former Auburn football players alleging that they received cash payments during their college careers. Jacobs declined to comment when asked if King had been allowed to sit in with any of the players during NCAA interviews.
Asked for his take on the report, he said: "My only thought was that we want to get to the bottom of it and find the truth out.
"It all surprised me. I think it was a surprise to everybody that watched it."
The spotlight that descended on the Tigers during and after producing its first football national title since 1957 hardly illuminated only the wins. Jacobs dismisses some of that as success leading to "some scrutiny and questions."
"For the Auburn family, I don't think it's taken any joy out of what's been accomplished."
Jacobs insists that he's not worried about any hit that Auburn's reputation might have taken outside the familial unit with Newton and the group nicknamed the HBO Four — Raven Gray, Stanley McClover, Chaz Ramsey and Troy Reddick.
"I think the only people that worry about those things are maybe people that aren't doing it right," Jacobs said.
Beyond those issues, Auburn is set to reward Chizik for leading the Tigers to a 14-0 season and a win over Oregon in the BCS championship game in just his second season.
Chizik added $1.3 million in bonuses last year to his $2.1 million salary.
"We're going to certainly give him a nice raise," Jacobs said. "The way we build our contracts is with a lot of incentives, and we'll do some of that as well. I won't talk numbers specifically but we'll put him up there where he can compete with the base salary as well. But we'll also probably do more than anybody else, like we've done with prior contracts, in incentives."
Jacobs said he raised the issue of a new deal with Chizik, not the other way around.
The coach does not have an agent, but is working with Birmingham attorney Russ Campbell on the deal.
"When it comes to money and stuff like that, it's really not a priority with Gene," Jacobs said. "He gave part of his original salary to be able to have a better salary to the assistant coaches when we hired him. I know that we're about to finish something up pretty soon. But I wouldn't read anything into why it hasn't happened sooner, other than just it's really not a priority for him."
Jacobs also addressed several other issues, including:Comment on this story
— Basketball coach Tony Barbee's contract. Barbee still hasn't signed his six-year, $9 million contract since his hiring in March 2010. "Once basketball season started, he said, 'Let's just put this on hold,'" Jacobs said. "There was a few things in the contract that he wanted us to look at. We looked at those. There were about three or four things, we eliminated three of them and made an adjustment on one. I think that sometime in the near future we'll have a contract on him. It's back with the attorneys now. He and I have in principle agreed upon everything."
— Secondary NCAA violations. Jacobs said Auburn reported secondary violations and self-imposed sanctions stemming from the football coaches' Tiger Prowls — visits to high schools around the state in limos or a bus in 2009 and 2010. The NCAA passed a rule allowing a university to send only two coaches to a high school on the same day during an evaluation period.
"We see them as secondary violations and the SEC saw them as secondary violations," said Jacobs, who declined to specify the self-imposed penalties until the NCAA announces its decision.
— Expansion of Jordan-Hare Stadium. Jacobs said expansion of the stadium is "not on the board right now." Auburn commissioned plans that would include future expansion and other upgrades — just in case.