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The NY Times has selected Auburn as the new target.

Auburn Trustee Boosts Everyone, Including the Chaplain

Dave Martin/Associated Press
Auburn players listening to Coach Tommy Tuberville after practice at the Superdome in New Orleans.


Published: January 3, 2005

Undue Influence
Second of two columns.

Previous column:
Big Boosters Calling the Shots on Campus (Jan. 2, 2005)

Todd J. Van Emst/The Montgomery Advertiser
The Auburn trustee Bobby Lowder, left, in 1999 with Don Siegelman, then the Alabama governor, at an Auburn basketball game.

OOK for him among the Auburn faithful today. The Rev. Chette Williams is the one with access to the team's football practices, its athletic facility, its bus and the most intimate details of players' lives.

"Anything you had inside you, no matter what it was, you could tell him," said Reggie Torbor, a rookie with the Giants and a former star at Auburn. "You trust him like a father."

Williams is ubiquitous, at the center of Bible study for coaches, at the soul of Scripture sessions for players and in the middle as the Tigers link arms the night before games and sing:

I'm a hard-fighting soldier on the battlefield.

I keep on bringing souls to Jesus by the service that I give.

The gospel of Brother Chette is liquid. Since he arrived on campus in 1999, he has baptized 20 players. And to many, he is the revelation behind Auburn's undefeated season, healing them when Tommy Tuberville was nearly fired last year after the university president and boosters boarded the trustee Bobby Lowder's plane for a clandestine meeting with Louisville Coach Bobby Petrino.

"If you ask anyone in that program," Torbor said, "Brother Chette is the reason Auburn is where it is right now."

The Auburn base knows Williams as a gatekeeper for victory. The players know him as the caretaker of their secrets, whether personal or financial.

"He wants to help people," Torbor said. "That's the type of man he is. At the same time, him doing that would give off the impression of cheating and doing something he knows he shouldn't do. It's a fine line there. He helped us, but he didn't do it for us, he pointed us in the right direction."

But who directs Chette Williams?

He is not, Auburn officials insist, a salaried employee, despite being labeled as a hire of Tuberville's, despite the office he has at the athletic department and his listing on the Tigers' Web site as team chaplain.

"He is employed by the Fellowship of Christian Athletes," said Terry Windle, Auburn's associate athletic director. "He is paid by the F.C.A."

Williams is also on the payroll of powerful Auburn boosters, with none other than the bank tycoon Bobby Lowder as one of his primary benefactors.

As wealthy contributors gain more influence in college football - as donations soar and coaches' salaries inflate - the financing behind Williams illuminates the elasticity of a booster's reach into every last pocket of a program.

Neither Williams nor Lowder returned requests for interviews, but they are cozily linked by Chette Williams Ministries Inc., a nonprofit 501C3 charity.

Its address is Auburn Athletic Department, with its books kept by Windle "on my own time," he said. According to Lee County, Ala., property records, Windle is also named as the owner of Williams's Auburn house - valued at $346,050, three blocks from Tuberville's residence. Windle said that the records were inaccurate, and that he sold his house to Williams.

Who knew the F.C.A. paid its staff so well? If a supplement is needed, Williams may be able to turn to his ministry. In its 2003 990 tax filing, a form used by nonprofit organizations, Williams's ministry reported $73,335 in direct public support, including $30,000 from the Lowder family's foundation, according to tax documents filed for the same year by the Robert and Charlotte Lowder Foundation.

Of his total expenses, Williams gave $7,340 to Habitat for Humanity, paid for his Auburn-related travel costs and drew $55,824 in compensation as president for 20 hours of work per week. The list of officers for Chette Williams Ministries, Inc. - none of whom are compensated - is curious.

The vice president, Ben Thomas, is listed as a member of Auburn's event management staff and was the former resident director for Sewell Hall, the athletes' dormitory.

The chairman, Mike McCartney, a former Auburn board member, is a successful Alabama businessman who has a history of close associations with Lowder.

The treasurer, Wayne Hall, is a former Tigers defensive coordinator who is known as a leader in Lowder's posse that oversees everything Auburn. Hall became labeled as the instigator who helped Lowder undermine Coach Terry Bowden during a scandal in 1998.

As The Orlando Sentinel reported at the time, "Bowden dismissed Wayne Hall, a holdover from" former Coach Pat Dye's staff, "when Terry suspected Hall wasn't as devoted to N.C.A.A. rules as he demanded."

It isn't clear why a team chaplain would be so friendly with former Auburn football insiders. Surely, Williams doesn't need such untidy company.

Williams has become a celebrity in state football lore, popular on the speech circuit and as a radio guest. For N.C.A.A. rules purposes, it is important to know if his message is specifically aimed at athletes, including potential recruits.

Again, Williams declined to discuss the matter, but in a statement he released through Auburn, he said, "In my role as the Director of Fellowship of Christian Athletes, I provide spiritual advisement to students on the Auburn campus."

His ministry mission, however, doesn't square with his F.C.A. role. On tax forms, he paints a much more narrow picture, explaining that the purpose of his ministry is to work effectively with "Auburn University athletes, especially with the football team, to encourage and stimulate better relations between players, coaches and support staff, using the standards and examples set by Jesus Christ; provide opportunities to evangelize, disciple and develop leaders through one-on-one witnessing and systematic studies, prayer meetings and counseling."

Is Lowder invited to the prayer circles? Does he know all and see all through Brother Chette?

Not necessarily. Lowder may not have anything so manipulative in mind when he sends a $30,000 check to the team chaplain. But Lowder's past creates suspicion.

Why would Lowder invest so much money and have so many ties to a team chaplain?

The answer appears to be access and more access. For years, Lowder has paid handsomely to create his private wormholes into Auburn athletics. In 2003 and 2004, he donated at least $5 million toward Auburn athletics, the price to buy vicarious entry into the world of Tigers football for this 1964 Auburn grad.

His obsessive meddling has been infamous, if not nearly disastrous to the university. As a graduate of Auburn, I was a little nervous about the credibility of my diploma when the Southern Association of Colleges and Schools placed the university on probation last year, citing the micromanagement by Lowder.

Last month, the association removed the probation. But the disclosures about Lowder's influence and ethical conflicts have been endless this past year: 6 of the 14 trustees had financial ties to either Lowder or his business, Colonial Bank; The Opelika-Auburn News reported that the law firm of the trustee Jack Miller received $2.6 million in legal fees from the bank; as listed on Colonial Bank's Web page, Dye, the Auburn consultant and legendary ex-coach, is on its board; and the daughter of the university's interim president, Ed Richardson, who came aboard after William Walker resigned amid the Lowder tarmac scandal, is an employee of Colonial Bank.

"It hurt when she was brought into all this," Richardson said in a recent telephone interview. "She asked me if she should resign, and I said no."

Even though Lowder's abuse of trustee power has been exposed in investigations by the university's newspaper, The Plainsman, and his image has been lampooned in political cartoons statewide and he was asked to resign by The Mobile Register, Richardson has defended him. Richardson admitted there was a perception that Lowder is the institution's puppeteer, but Richardson referred to Lowder as a "convenient lightning rod."

"Bobby Lowder has done a lot of good for Auburn University," Richardson said.

But this is the issue for university presidents across the country faced with renegade boosters and trustees: Is their control for sale?

"There is no greater temptation for intrusion into presidential control and institutional mission than athletics when it comes to the board of trustees," Notre Dame's outgoing president, the Rev. Edward Malloy, told a forum sponsored by The Sports Business Journal last month. "The governing boards and many members of the governing boards have a huge incentive - for reasons we can all speculate about - to be excessively interested in athletics and to attempt to micromanage."

What is Lowder's motive? As an Auburn history professor, Wayne Flynt, wrote in an op-ed article for The Decatur (Ala.) Daily last February, "Whether because of his obsession with football - as some critics claim - or his determination to recast the school according to his own inaccurate and myopic understanding of a what a land-grant university ought to be, Lowder has used his political influence to pack the board with trustees beholden to him."

This began with Gov. George Wallace, who, after a handsome donation from Lowder, appointed him as a trustee to the university in 1983. Lowder hasn't let go, bullying any politician who has dared try to separate him from his Soprano-like hold on Auburn.

He sounds ominous, but physically Lowder is a slightly built man, with an affinity for peanut butter and jelly sandwiches.

Money gives him strength. Lowder's influence has skyrocketed with his wealth. He has been listed as one of Forbes's most powerful people, and in 2003 the magazine estimated his total compensation from Colonial Bank at $1.6 million, with stock options valued at more than $3 million.

He has other investments, too, making his financial success stunning. According to property records, he owns several homes besides his Montgomery, Ala., estate, including a condominium in Naples, Fla., valued at $12 million and two homes in Auburn - a picket-fenced bungalow worth $168,970, four blocks from a stately, renovated residence appraised at $405,440.

Auburn athletics may be Lowder's greatest acquisition. He has been known to interview football coaches behind the athletic director's back and to orchestrate hirings and firings.

He is the prototype of the über-booster, the great threat to intercollegiate athletics. No doubt Bobby Lowder was prowling around the Sugar Bowl today, lording over his undefeated team, knowing all, seeing all, owning all.

There are surely Lowder knockoffs out there on the college landscape, testing the elasticity of their reach, pushing the limits for an all-access pass to the team. No telling who is under their thumb. Even a trusted team chaplain could be vulnerable.

E-mail: [email protected]

Auburn Next
Three thoughts...

Why is it that, with all their digging, ESPiN didn't find anything like this at Ohio State?

Why is it that this situation at Auburn has not received attention at ESPiN?

How many other programs have such problems?
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This began with Gov. George Wallace, who, after a handsome donation from Lowder, appointed him as a trustee to the university in 1983. Lowder hasn't let go, bullying any politician who has dared try to separate him from his Soprano-like hold on Auburn.

Down in Birmingham.. they love the guvnor.

Hoo, Hoo, Hoo.

Anyway... this is all very bizarre...
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The FCA at Auburn.

That stands for:


doesn't it?

I think if the NY Times, ESPN, and/or the NCAA want to do some digging into that program, they'll find something. That's true of most of the top-20 programs, but I think especially so there.

I hope it's somebody else's turn in the barrel.
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Steve19 said:
Three thoughts...

Why is it that, with all their digging, ESPiN didn't find anything like this at Ohio State?
It wasn't/isn't like that here?

Steve19 said:
Why is it that this situation at Auburn has not received attention at ESPiN?
A - Auburn has had problems of this or related type before and in recent memory. They were reported, Auburn didn't get of scott free.
B - Auburn has now risen from its own ashes. Now they (like all programs experiencing success) will get dinged at the first opportunity.

Steve19 said:
How many other programs have such problems?
You mean the ones down South were Slush Fund and Slush Puppies go hand in hand? Or do you mean across the land regardless of whether they are experiencing success? Just asking rhetorical questions I guess.
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OSU fans more than anyone should know that media induced perception often falls short of reality. While I realize everyone will find some solace in removing some of the national spotlight from our program, remember how it feels and try to remember our own situation before throwing rocks at any other program.

Hopefully our recent issues will help us remain sympathetic towards other programs in similar circumstances. I'm more disturbed with the state of collegiate athletics and also the effect that the media is having on university images. I don't find any pleasure in this...it won't make our own investigation go away.

...If only it could've been at scUM :biggrin: .
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Honestly I just wish I could watch a football game without seeing all of this shit all the time. No wonder the Army-Navy game is still one of the best rivalries in sports. You don't see any players from there in the news for something negative.
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I sure wish during Va Techs last scoring drive Tirico would've turned and said, "Hey Terry, now about those tapes of you a year-and-a-half ago ...?" :biggrin:

I don't know what to make of the article above. Auburn's and 'Bama's trials are pretty well documented, but what sticks out like a sore thumb to me is that Larry Blakeney, one of the first of Pat Dye's staff to leave the program under a cloud of suspicion in '91, suddenly takes over Troy State and runs off a string of 10 win seasons, takes the program from D2 to D1AA to D1A in 10 years, and gets a mammoth amount of donations and booster money to renovate everything about the athletics department.

That Larry Blakeney is involved isn't suspicious at all ... :roll2: Good thing Troy was this years media darling!
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I believe Auburn is the Next Target

How many believe that there are only "minor violations" in this nonprofit entity? Come on Auburn, take the Buckeyes off the front pages.
Auburn Says Chaplain Did Not Violate Any Rules

<nyt_byline version="1.0" type=" "> [size=-1] By THE ASSOCIATED PRESS [/size]

Published: January 8, 2005

<nyt_text> </nyt_text>
UBURN, Ala., Jan. 7 (AP) - Auburn University has determined that the chaplain for the football team, Chette Williams, did not violate any major N.C.A.A. rules. A column in The New York Times earlier in the week raised questions about the role he plays in the athletic department.

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</td></tr> </tbody> </table> Mark Richard, Auburn's associate athletic director for compliance, said Friday that a review of the financial records for Williams's nonprofit organization found only potentially minor violations involving the Fellowship of Christian Athletes.

Williams has a small office in the university's athletic complex, but he is employed by the fellowship, not by Auburn.

Richard said that Chette Williams Ministries Inc. spent $704 for meals at three fellowship events and $400 for a bus ride to an event last summer. He said the payments could be a potential violation because National Collegiate Athletic Association rules do not allow a college or an "athletically related organization" to pay such expenses.

"It's a minor thing," Richard said. He called the investigation "very standard."

Williams has been praised by Coach Tommy Tuberville and players for his role in the football team's success. Auburn went 13-0 and won the Southeastern Conference championship.

A column in The Times on Monday questioned Williams's links to Bobby Lowder, a powerful Auburn trustee, and the former assistant coach Wayne Hall.

Lowder, a banker in Montgomery, Ala., who has been accused of micromanaging the university and athletic department, donated $90,000 to Williams's foundation over the past three years, The Times said. As a member of the foundation's board, Hall has the authority to supplement Williams's salary; he is also listed as the organization's treasurer.

In an article Friday in The Opelika-Auburn News, Williams said that Lowder's donations and the board's ability to increase his earnings did not buy influence.

Williams said he did not feel beholden to Lowder. "I'm not beholden to anybody except God," he said.

When he receives a check for the foundation for speaking engagements, Williams said the foundation's board could sign the money over to him as compensation. He said the payments helped supplement his $55,824 salary.

When asked by The Opelika-Auburn News, he said he had never made or arranged any improper payments to a player.

"That would not even cross my mind," he told the newspaper. "It scares me to even think about that."

B.C.S. a Topic for Debate

GRAPEVINE, Tex., Jan. 7 (AP) - Commissioners from the 11 Division I-A conferences met to discuss changes in the Bowl Championship Series for more than five hours Friday, the first day of the N.C.A.A. convention.

The primary issue is determining how to rank teams, especially the two that play for the B.C.S. championship. The commissioners had not met since last month, when the Associated Press asked that its poll not be used in the system's formula any longer.

Kevin Weiberg, coordinator of the B.C.S. and commissioner of the Big 12 Conference, said commissioners discussed a wide range of issues. He said they also talked about determining which conferences would receive automatic bids in the system and about the format for 2006, when a fifth B.C.S. game will be added.

"We had a productive discussion," Weiberg said. "We were framing the issues, not making any decisions."
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