Since 1995 - Insightful commentary on the Georgia Bulldogs

Post Newton fallout: facts, questions, A.J., Oher, the SEC, and huh?

Thursday December 2, 2010

Of course my headline yesterday was tongue-in-cheek – the Cam Newton investigation is far from over. His eligibility for the rest of the year is settled, but there are a number of unanswered questions.

I’m sure that the NCAA and SEC are aware of and alarmed by the enormous loophole this decision creates, and we should expect appropriate legislation Real Soon Now. But in the narrow scope of Newton’s eligibility, I don’t think the NCAA or SEC had any choice but to declare him eligible. Why? Because no evidence was revealed that Newton (or anyone, for that matter, ever received an improper benefit.

Reaction to the Newton decision has drawn a great deal of outrage, and I can understand why. Here you have an admission that a pay-for-play scheme was going on, and it (so far) has come to nothing. Some of the analysis has brought up the Reggie Bush and A.J. Green cases for points of comparison, but both of those cases have one thing that’s lacking so far in the Newton investigation: proof of an actual benefit (i.e., a transfer of money, access to property, etc.). The NCAA has established as fact that Cecil Newton had his hand out, but they didn’t indicate whether anything was put into it.

Whether Cecil Newton actually got anything for his effort seems to be the central question going forward (duh). That’s why we have the “based on the information available to the reinstatement staff at this time…” jargon from the NCAA. It’s not as if family members trying to get what they can out of the recruiting process is a new discovery – it’s a time-honored part of the recruiting process in most any intercollegiate sport. Just read The Blind Side and see what Sean Junior, a little kid, was asking for. Of course it wasn’t $200k or any amount of money, but a field and locker room pass is still a pretty sweet deal for a young boy. The “what can you do for me and my family” mentality is such an accepted part of the process that it’s comic relief in the Oher story. We rarely hear about the more serious requests for cash and other benefits because 1) most programs show those parents the door during the recruiting process and 2) there’s nothing solid to go by when the prospect signs somewhere else. That’s kind of where we are with Newton. The difference in this case is that the solicitation of money by a parent is now on the record.

Moving on, here are the two statements from the NCAA that I’m trying to reconcile. First:

According to facts of the case agreed upon by Auburn University and the NCAA enforcement staff, the student-athlete’s father and an owner of a scouting service worked together to actively market the student-athlete as a part of a pay-for-play scenario in return for Newton’s commitment to attend college and play football.


Based on the information available to the reinstatement staff at this time, we do not have sufficient evidence that Cam Newton or anyone from Auburn was aware of this activity, which led to his reinstatement.

For that to be true, we have to believe that Cecil Newton was shopping his son (for allegedly six figures) to one program only: Mississippi State – the school with the smallest athletics budget in the SEC. If Cam didn’t attend MSU, it’s reasonable to think that MSU wasn’t willing to play ball. So, after being spurned by MSU, we have to believe that Cecil’s quest for a six-figure payday ended there and that nothing similar was ever mentioned or suggested to the Auburn staff. I wonder then how and when Auburn was presented with enough evidence to be able to agree on the facts of the case.

And this wasn’t just a case of covertly dealing with rogue boosters or those on the periphery of the Mississippi State program. The MSU staff was sufficiently aware of the scheme to report irregularities to the SEC office in January of 2010. Does Slive’s SEC office also have a role in this story? An alleged pay-for-play scheme landed on their desk in January. Because MSU was slow to provide additional information, the case sat until the NCAA became involved over the summer. Apparently Auburn was never made aware that one of their players was the center of a pay-for-play scheme, and it took until the final days of November for his eligibility to be in question. Do you think that would have been an important piece of information for Auburn to learn? The upshot is that Slive has turned this into not just an Auburn or Mississippi State problem but an SEC problem, and the rest of us are getting lumped into this farce.

Whatever the ultimate outcome of the investigation, I think HeismanPundit is correct: this is hardly vindication for Newton. He’s cleared to play for the next two games before he takes his show to the next level, but that’s about it. The rumors about pay-for-play and shady recruiting are now established fact, and the historic seasons of Newton and Auburn have to live with that fact hanging over them even if further investigation can’t prove that Cam nor Auburn had a role.

Comments are closed.