Now that the NCAA has declared Auburn quarterback Cam Newton as being eligible to continue playing this season, what happens next? Well, for starters, Auburn fans can stop worrying about whether or not Newton will be announced in the starting lineup in the SEC Title Game and possibly the BCS Title Game.
However, this story is far from over because while Newton is eligible to play, the investigation into the matter is still ongoing. After all, the official release from the NCAA regarding his eligibility does state that infractions have occurred:
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. NCAA rules (Bylaw 12.3.3) do not allow individuals or entities to represent a prospective student-athlete for compensation to a school for an athletic scholarship. (NCAA)
Some people erroneously took the NCAA’s actions yesterday to mean that this thing is a done deal. Nope, this saga still has legs, much to the delight of the Pete Thamels of the world. So in light of these events, I’m left with the following questions:
Why was Newton declared eligible the week of the SEC Title Game? - My thinking is that the timing of this is due in large part to the work of SEC Commissioner Mike Slive. If you’ll recall, Slive was pretty damn silent when this Newton scandal first broke. But now he’s a lot more talkative, so much so that he’s quoted in the same release that was referenced above:
“The conduct of Cam Newton’s father and the involved individual is unacceptable and has no place in the SEC or in intercollegiate athletics,” said Mike Slive, Southeastern Conference Commissioner. “The actions taken by Auburn University and Mississippi State University make it clear this behavior will not be tolerated in the SEC.” (NCAA)
My guess is that Slive went to the NCAA and gave them a polite nudge. Why? Because his league’s showcase sporting event is coming up this weekend. And while he’s got no problem with the NCAA continuing to investigate, he did want them to at least throw him a bone. Providing clarity on Newton’s eligibility was that bone.
Does the NCAA believe that Auburn and Cam Newton had no idea what Cecil Newton was doing? – Well, kind of, but here’s the thing: they have found nothing as of yet to prove that either way. In a piece from a few weeks back, ESPN’s Joe Schad wrote the following:
After Newton committed to Auburn, another source said an emotional Cam Newton phoned another recruiter to express regret that he wouldn’t be going to Mississippi State, stating that his father, Cecil, had chosen Auburn for him because “the money was too much.” (ESPN)
At the time that seemed like pretty damning stuff for both Cam Newton and Auburn, but it appears that Schad’s source is either unreliable or has been totally and completely discredited. Why would I think that? Because if Schad’s source came clean to the NCAA and was totally believable, Newton wouldn’t be eligible right now.
There are rumors that the FBI wiretaps that led to the arrest of Auburn booster Milton McGregor contained conversations that implicated him in the improper recruitment of Newton. However, it appears those rumors are pretty much unfounded.
But like I said, a violation did occur, that’s spelled out clearly in the release. In the coming months, once Cam Newton is safely tucked away in the NFL, the investigation could very well reveal that he knew everything all along.
Have Mississippi State’s coaches been completely forthcoming with NCAA investigators? – Since this scandal broke, I’ve asserted that the people that the NCAA would deem to be the most reliable would be the coaches at Mississippi State. After all, the school did report this matter to the SEC many months ago.
But since then, things have gotten complicated for Mississippi State. The names of prominent boosters like John Bond and Bill Bell have become mixed up in this scandal. If the NCAA starts to dig deeper into the dealings of Bell and Bond with the MSU football program, might they find improprieties totally unrelated to Cam Newton?
After all, if Kenny Rogers was working on behalf of Cecil Newton and seeking money from MSU, then the people he called in regard to that solicitation might very well have a history of being mixed up in pay-for-play stuff. Think about it, if you need a hitman to get a job done, would you deal with a person who’s never rubbed anyone out? So am I to believe that Rogers was calling people who’ve never, ever been involved in pay-for-play stuff before?
So the MSU coaches who recruited Newton are in a tough spot. Every significant figure in this scandal whose last name isn’t Newton has a direct tie to the MSU football program. If the coaches are extremely forthcoming with information, who knows what that could lead to. So while the general public seems to view Auburn with a wary eye, it’s actually Mississippi State that has more to lose. Why? Because it appears their money men are out in the open, and that’s never a good thing (Logan Young would attest to that if he could).
If MSU’s coaches had spilled their guts, I have to believe that this investigation would’ve taken a very bad turn for Cam Newton. But since the NCAA seems to be okay with him playing out the season, I think they didn’t get very much in the way of damning information from MSU’s coaches. And that could be because they are are very keen on not letting any more of their dirty laundry see the light of day.
Will Kenny Rogers end up getting most of the blame for this? – That could very well be the case. In the release regarding Newton’s eligibility, there was an interesting nugget about Rogers:
In conjunction with the case, Auburn University has limited the access Newton’s father has to the athletics program and Mississippi State has disassociated the involved individual. (NCAA)
The “involved individual” is Rogers, and this disassociation comes before the investigation is even concluded. So why weren’t Bell and Bond also disassociated from the Mississippi State football program? Well, it could be the fact that Rogers is being viewed as the guy who engineered this whole thing from the beginning.
Follow my thinking here: it doesn’t appear that Cam Newton was “shopped around,” as so many people casually assert. If he was, wouldn’t reliable sources at the other schools that were recruiting Newton have come forth and provided this information by now? As of yet, no one from Oklahoma, Tennessee or Kansas State has done so.
The school where the solicitation took place was Mississippi State, which is Rogers’ alma mater and the school he knows best. And Rogers is on record as saying he’s the one who contacted the Newtons first and not the other way around. So could the scheme to get money out of his alma mater and take a piece of the action himself been planted by Rogers?
Within the NCAA’s release, it gives no indication as to who was the mastermind behind this, let me refresh your memory: …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.
That appears to contradict a previous statement by Cecil Newton given to ESPN:
“If Rogers tried to solicit money from Mississippi State, he did it on his own, without our knowledge,” Cecil Newton said. (ESPN)
In the mind of the NCAA, does it even matter who came up with this solicitation scheme? I would think that if Cecil Newton went along with it, he’s just as much a guilty party. But maybe, just maybe, it makes a difference in the eyes of the NCAA in regard to who was actually trying to orchestrate this thing.
Don’t get me wrong, I’m not trying to paint Cecil as an innocent patsy who was duped by Rogers. But it’s strange to me that the demand for cash wasn’t made to each and every school that was recruiting Cam Newton. Why only Mississippi State? Like I said, that’s the school that Rogers knows best.
The fact that he’s been disassociated from MSU makes me think that there’s at least a decent possibility that the NCAA views Rogers as the guy pulling all the strings in this scheme, regardless of the wording contained in the release. If so, that could very well result in some of the heat coming off of Cecil Newton.
Does the restoration of Cam Newton’s eligibility leave the NCAA with egg on its face? - I’m dumbfounded that everyone took the NCAA’s ruling on Newton’s eligibility as being some grand loophole that’s now been opened that every cheating booster will take advantage of. Here’s John Pennington’s take from the Mr. SEC blog:
By acknowledging that Newton’s father asked for cash and by taking no punitive action against the player, the NCAA has just told every family of an NCAA recruit to ask for illegal cash. (mrsec.com)
Uh, no, not exactly. This could be the NCAA saying that if you’re the family of an NCAA recruit, run like hell when a guy like Kenny Rogers shows up. What Pennington also fails to take into account is what I said at the beginning of this piece, that this investigation is still ongoing.
A good amount of outrage over this latest turn in the Cam Newton saga comes from butthurt Southern Cal fans. In their minds, they were unfairly railroaded by the NCAA during the Reggie Bush investigation. To hear them tell it, their beloved school did NOTHING wrong, and the probation that USC is on now is tantamount to the imprisonment that Nelson Mandela endured.
To USC fans, the Newton Saga and the Bush Tragedy are essentially apples to apples, and the NCAA’s seeming unwillingness to punish Auburn or Cam Newton means they got a raw deal. This is despite the fact that it appears that the Newtons didn’t actually receive any improper benefits and no coach at either Auburn or Mississippi State has a guy like Lloyd Lake on speed dial.
Come on USC fans, like I said, this investigation is still ongoing, you might very well get the pound of flesh that you’re all so hungry for. The butthurtedness of Trojan Nation was out of control on Twitter, check out tweets like this from Los Angeles-based @synrgysports, who is no doubt a USC homer:
Good lord, you couldn’t cut through that bitterness with a chainsaw. For the record, Synrgy Sports is an outfit that deals in …brace yourself… “professional agent selection counseling” for college athletes. Oh yeah, that sounds totally on the up and up. Nah, one could NEVER have a conflict of interests being involved in that racket.
Does the NCAA have egg on its face after this? Not exactly. Because as much as USC fans argue that they’re the same, the Bush and Newton sagas really aren’t.