When longtime Auburn commit George Pickens announced Wednesday that he was not signing with the Tigers and instead flipping to Georgia, social media was abuzz.
The 5-star receiver from Hoover (Ala.) had been committed to the Tigers for more than a year. He actually was Auburn’s first 2019 pledge.
So when he put on the Georgia hat, conclusions were jumped to. Naturally.
Of course it had to be that Georgia paid Pickens, and that was the only way the program was able to flip him at the last minute.
It wasn’t the fact that the Dawgs lost Riley Ridley, Mecole Hardman and Isaac Nauta early to the draft while No. 1 receiver Jadon Haselwood dropped his Georgia commitment, making Pickens’ path clearer than ever. It definitely had nothing to do with the fact that the Dawgs have one of the nation’s best quarterbacks returning while Auburn’s quarterback is up in the air after Jarrett Stidham left early for the draft. It couldn’t have been that Auburn’s refusal to throw the ball downfield was on display more than ever in 2018.
Nope. Pickens picked Georgia because he got a bunch of money to go there. Proof? Who needs proof?
Well, that’s at least what plenty of Auburn fans said on Twitter. It’s also what Auburn players Coynis Miller Jr. and Anthony Schwartz said following Pickens’ announcement:
That’s not really much of a subtweet.
Both tweets were deleted. You can bet Auburn media relations/compliance or someone was like “Uh, hey guys. I know you feel strongly about this, but you can’t tweet that a rival program just paid a 5-star recruit.”
You know what tweet wasn’t deleted? This one from Miller:
By the way, Schwartz retweeted that.
Let me preface this by saying I have no idea if what they’re saying is true or not. I cannot confirm that Georgia cheats to get players. I cannot confirm Georgia doesn’t cheat to get players. The same is true for Auburn and everybody else.
I’m not naive enough to think that college football recruiting is 100 percent by the book. Goodness, it’s 2019. I read the internet. I know what people say about this recruit or that recruit. Of course fans are going to assume the worst when a 5-star athlete flips his commitment to one of the juggernauts at the last minute.
The problem is the holier than thou mentality from players. That just dumps gasoline on the fire among fans when they come out and make an insinuation like that.
Can Miller and Schwartz guarantee that Auburn has never been guilty of foul play? No. Do they have a better insight on that process than I do? Sure, but they also can’t prove that the thousands of players Malzahn and his staff recruited since he was hired have always played by the rules. Nobody can.
That’s why making a claim like that comes off as petty, one-sided and just downright bitter.
It wasn’t that long ago that Auburn fans had to try and defend Cam Newton’s recruitment when he pulled a late surprise and picked the Tigers. Shoot, they’re still having to defend that.
Remember 6 years ago after the Selena Roberts story that alleged Auburn coaches attempted to participate in pay-for-play schemes and that they had grades altered for ineligible students? The Tigers didn’t do anything but deny, deny, deny.
You would think a fan base that was so enraged about being accused of cheating wouldn’t jump to the same conclusion the second a 5-star recruit announced he was playing elsewhere. The argument then was that there wasn’t enough proof.
Did Miller and Schwartz see Georgia hand Pickens money? Of course not. Any accusations are rooted in what this person said, or what they heard from that person. And if they were there to witness that for some crazy reason, Miller and Schwartz should have instead tweeted, “I literally watched a Georgia coach drop a bag of money on Pickens’ doorstep yesterday.”
The NCAA responds to that. It doesn’t respond to players on social media who fire off a money bag tweet the second a 5-star recruit spurns their school. It’s in the same class as fans tweeting at recruits.
That’s what this felt like. It doesn’t matter if what those Auburn players alleged was true. What matters was that it came off like a scorned ex in the heat of the moment and not like a legitimate claim.
I thought it was interesting to see the way Malzahn talked about the Pickens situation.
Auburn HC Gus Malzahn on WR George Pickens flipping to UGA: "I usually don't comment on players who go elsewhere, but he was committed to us for a while. … The good thing is that we have a lot of big-time receivers who are young. That's not going to bother us."
— Justin Ferguson (@JFergusonAU) February 6, 2019
It’ll bother Malzahn if Pickens lights it up at Georgia while his passing game sputters again. It’ll sting that much more knowing that he couldn’t close on someone who he obviously wanted, despite the fact that Auburn has “big-time receivers who are young.”
For now, though, it just bothers me that this is where we’re at. We have players making rather serious accusations in a public setting without proof. Nobody would have made those accusations had Pickens not had a last-minute change of heart, which as we know, happens with 18-year-old kids making big life decisions. A lot.
Pickens is hardly the first and definitely not the last recruit to ignite cheating allegations from opposing fans and players alike.
But hey, I suppose it wouldn’t really be ‘crootin’ SZN if we didn’t get at least one major reminder of why #ItMightMeanTooMuch.