Home / Featured / With Auburn seemingly on the verge of claiming additional national championships, TWER gets reaction from the Birmingham lawyer whose book finally made it seem OK

With Auburn seemingly on the verge of claiming additional national championships, TWER gets reaction from the Birmingham lawyer whose book finally made it seem OK

Better late than never.
Better late than never.

It’s been a thing for a while, sure. You’d be talking football with your dad and go “I mean, if we counted national championships like Bama, we’d have like, five or six more or something.” You knew it was true—anything good about Auburn has to be true—but it’s not like you could really talk intelligently about it. Because when it came to keeping up with the Jones’ and their tacky Got 12? bumper stickers, Auburn fans were mostly concerned with debunking Alabama’s championship history than we were celebrating our own.

However, over the past year (and among those that care), that mentality has begun to change, no doubt thanks to the work of Birmingham lawyer and 1982 Auburn grad Michael Skotnicki.

Skotnicki’s book, Auburn’s Unclaimed National Championships, laid out a powerful argument that Auburn’s Athletic Department has not only a right to officially recognize seven additional Auburn teams as national champions, but a duty—to the champions themselves. Just over a year after it was published, Jay Jacobs and Co. seem on the verge of doing just that. And not just with asterisks in media guides, but with rings on fingers.

At least that’s what Jacobs told Kevin Scarbinsky in a story published just hours before Auburn played for what AU, so it seems, would have eventually counted not as the Tigers’ third, but eighth, ninth, or maybe even 10th national championship.

From al.com:

Jacobs said Auburn has been studying the subject, and there’s a good chance you’ll see other special teams from the past earn the same recognition from the school itself. He wants input on the subject from Auburn fans.

“I think we should go back and claim them,” he said. “I think we should count our national championships just as our peers do.”

The most likely candidates to be added to Auburn’s honor roll, according to the AD: 1910, 1913, 1914, 1983 and 2004.

You’ll notice one of Auburn’s undefeated teams not on Jacobs’ list. It’s Terry Bowden’s 1993 team, which went 11-0 but was denied a chance to play in the SEC Championship Game and a bowl game because of NCAA probation from the Dye regime.

For that reason, Jacobs said, “the only one that gives me a little pause is 1993,” even though the National Championship Foundation named Auburn as a champion for that season retroactively.

“What you don’t want to do is make somebody think you’re making something up,” Jacobs said. “But if other schools are claiming their championships, why shouldn’t we claim ours?”

It’s by no means a done deal. Banners haven’t been hung yet. But for Skotnicki converts who interpreted Auburn not taking advantage of the 100th anniversary of the 1913 season as the the perfect opportunity to at least recognize the team arguably most deserving of a retroactive crown as national champions as meaning that they never would be hung, that the momentum Auburn’s Unclaimed National Champions had given the Claim’em If You Got’em movement leading up to the 2013 season had stalled, Jacobs’ comments are cause to celebrate.

So what’s Skotnicki, the MVP of maybe four or five or however many teams Auburn may ultimately deems worthy of recognizing as national champs, think about the news? I asked him. (You can read our previous interview with him here.)


What was your first reaction to Kevin Scarbinsky’s article? What did you think of the timing of the article? 

My first reaction to reading Kevin Scarbinsky’s article quoting Jay Jacobs’ statement that Auburn was planning to claim additional national championships for certain past seasons was that I was a bit surprised. I provided copies of my book, “Auburn’s Unclaimed National Championships,” to Auburn and knew that it was an issue being considered within the Athletic Department, but I had no idea that such a decision had been reached, so it was unexpected although certainly welcomed. I was pleased that the decision was made public before the BCS Championship game because I don’t believe the eventual outcome of that game, a narrow last-second loss, should influence the decision.

What about the reasoning he seems to be bringing to the issue: “But if other schools are claiming their championships, why shouldn’t we claim ours?”

I believe Jay Jacob’s reasoning is accurate and gets to the crux of the matter. To this point Auburn has used a strict standard for recognition of a season as a national championship, recognizing only the Associated Press (and Coaches Poll) and the BCS Championship as national championship selectors, even though there are many more independent and impartial entities that have named college football national champions and even though the NCAA recognizes many of these national championship selectors. However, other schools, including peer institutions within the SEC, have claimed national championships based on awards from these other selectors, while Auburn has not. For example, Tennessee has won one A.P. title and one BCS Championship, but claims six national championships, Texas A&M has won one A.P. title, but claims three national championships, and Ole Miss has not won an A.P. or Coaches Poll title nor a BCS Championship, but claims three national championships and actively uses that claim in its recruiting of high school players. I believe Jay Jacobs has now made the very sound decision that its time for Auburn to “even the playing field” with our competitors regarding national championship claims.

Screen-shot-2013-02-12-at-12.58.14-PM2It’s is a very smart and decisive strategic decision on Auburn’s part to establish the standard for the number of national championships that Auburn has won prior to the beginning for the four-team playoff system. The playoff system will finally eliminate the 100-year old problem of how college football can decisively anoint a single team as the uncontested national champion. Even the BCS system didn’t completely provide the answer, as both LSU and USC claim to be national champions for the 2003 season. Until now, Auburn has clearly been using a much stricter standard than many of its SEC peers and other colleges nationally in determining what seasons in which it can rightfully claim to be called a national champion. Adopting a standard like those used by other schools is more reflective of Auburn’s true status as one of the nation’s elite college football programs. In recent years schools such as Texas A&M, USC, and Minnesota have added long past seasons to those for which they claim a national championship, so such a decision by Auburn is certainly not groundbreaking.

How does it feel to know you may have actually achieved your goal for the book… that you are (potentially) responsible for a move that could shift the sense of historical identity of the entire Auburn football program and Auburn fan base?

I wrote Auburn’s Unclaimed National Championships in 2012 with the goal of being an advocate for the Auburn teams in the seven additional seasons for which Auburn could claim additional national championships. I felt that those teams, particularly those coached long ago by Mike Donahue, were greatly under appreciated by Auburn people. But I certainly haven’t been the first Auburn person to contend Auburn should claim additional national championships for seasons such as 1983. Others have done so going back several decades and I think the Athletic Department has slowly evolved its position over the years by adding additional information about the accolades given such teams by national championship selectors to the Football Media Guide, although not specifically claiming the teams as national champions as has been done with 1957 and 2010.

As an appellate attorney, I felt that after studying the history of Auburn football, a very strong case could be made that Auburn should adopt a standard like that used by its peers and claim additional teams as national champions. If my book, which consolidated all this information in one volume and pleaded the case for these teams, helped to play a role in the Athletic Department’s decision, then I would certainly be honored. I think maybe it helped bring more attention to the issue, but the facts regarding those Auburn teams clearly speak for themselves. Auburn has a long history of greatness in college football going back over 100 years that even many Auburn people don’t realize because not enough attention has been brought to the Donahue era when Auburn dominated football in the South. In this age the greatness of a program is often measured by the media, fans, or football recruits using the yardstick of how many national championships it has won. Certainly Auburn, in determining this number, should use the same type of standard used by its peers rather than one which only short-changes its championship tradition in comparison to others. Jay Jacobs’ decision that Auburn will claim at least some of these additional national championships will result in Auburn’s national championship total more accurately reflect its status as a longstanding elite football program.

What do you think the reaction will be if the championships are officially acknowledged? From Auburn fans? From other (Bama) fans? How likely, judging from your take on the story, do you think it is that it actually will happen, to whatever extent?

I firmly believe that this is a decision that the vast majority of Auburn people want to happen and will strongly support when made official. I’ve had many people tell me that while they previously were against the idea of Auburn recognizing additional seasons as national championships, once they read my book and truly understood how deserving those teams were and that Auburn has been using a much stricter standard than other schools, they completely changed their mind. I really don’t think you can read Auburn’s Unclaimed National Championships and have any opinion other than that some, if not all, of the national championships should be claimed.

I don’t think the University of Alabama or its fans cared much what Auburn people thought when back in the 1980’s it decided to add five seasons to those it claimed as national championships, so while I certainly think Bama fans will be critical of such a decision by Auburn’s Athletic Department to similarly add to its national championship total, I don’t place any importance on their opinion. Auburn doesn’t let Alabama decide any more where we play our home game for the Iron Bowl, and Alabama shouldn’t have any influence on what seasons Auburn should recognize as a national championship team.

Given the public nature of Jay Jacobs’ remarks and publication in an article by Kevin Scarbinsky, I’m certain this is an issue that has been given thorough review and consideration within the Athletic Department and was not simply an “off the cuff” remark. While perhaps the final decision as to what Auburn teams will be officially acknowledged as a national champion has not yet been made, I’m confident that the decision to recognize at least some of them is indeed final.

What about Jay Jacob’s hesitation when it comes to 1993? Why do you think only that year would give him “a little pause”?

Perhaps Jay Jacobs is given pause by the fact that Auburn was on NCAA probation in 1993. However, being on probation is no barrier to recognition as a national championship team. A recent example is that Alabama was on NCAA probation for the 2009 season when it won a BCS national championship. Even the fact that the 1993 team had a bowl ban as an NCAA sanction does not prevent a team from being recognized as a national champion. The most of obvious example to Auburn people is the 1957 team, but the 1974 Oklahoma team of Barry Switzer is also a recognized national champion even though it was on probation with a bowl ban that season. I’m sure further reflection on the issue will remove any doubts Jay Jacobs may have about Auburn recognizing the undefeated 1993 team as a national champion, as does my 2009 copy of the Official NCAA Records Book.

Auburn’s Unclaimed National Champions is available from Amazon in paperback and on Kindle.

Related: Football rankings guru Richard Billingsley says Auburn should claim century-old crown: ‘My national championship for Auburn in 1913 is a very valid national championship’

For a $10 donation to TWER (just make sure you include your address), you can turn your car into a Bramblettmobile! Or a Hot Rod, if you will… act fast, supplies are limited…

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About Jeremy Henderson

Jeremy Henderson is the editor of The War Eagle Reader and co-host of Rich and Jeremy in the Mornings on Wings 94.3 FM in Auburn. Follow him on Twitter: @wareaglereader / @jerthoughts / @RichandJeremy

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