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.
As the Cam Newton saga nears the end of the tracks to possibly become the train wreck that people like Thayer Evans will watch with glee, I still have a lot of unanswered questions regarding how this even came about.
Specifically, I’ve wondered whether Kenny Rogers wasn’t some casual go between, but rather a guy who’s profited off of arrangements like this in the past. There are few very saints in this story, but while Cecil Newton will most certainly be painted the biggest villain (with his son not far behind) once it’s over, I think Rogers was every bit as nefarious.
Let me put this out there: if a demand for $180,000 was made, did Cecil Newton come up with that idea all on his own? Or was Kenny Rogers the architect? Keep in mind that if these allegations are proven, it won’t amount to a hill of beans regarding who came up with what idea. But it’s interesting to ponder, especially in light of some things Rogers had to say yesterday when he was interviewed by Ian Fitzsimmons of KESN-FM in Dallas. I can’t embed the entirety of the audio, but let me provide the highlights.
During the first portion of his interview, Rogers said the following: “I played at Mississippi State, I got friends there and God only knows what they’re thinking of me now.”
Well, Kenny, maybe you should of thought of that before the NFLPA started investigating you. Once that happened, your old MSU buddies probably thought that you’re a sleazeball who’ll do anything for a buck. But in regard to his standing in this Newton scandal, that fact apparently is neither here nor there to outlets like ESPN.
Rogers went on to say in the interview that he was the person who initiated contact with Cam Newton’s father Cecil and not the other way around. He said this occurred after Cam Newton left Florida under less than optimal circumstances: “And what I got in touch with him for is I help kids. I help kids get in school when a kid’s name go across the screen, uh, Brent Schaeffer from Tennessee, I helped him.”
I’m absolutely positive that Rogers performs these services for disgraced football players out of nothing more than the kindness that oozes from his gigantic heart. So anyway, all of you know how the story went, Cam Newton ends up at Blinn JC and once again becomes a hot recruit amongst FBS schools.
Fitzsimmons then asked Rogers how he became involved with Cam Newton’s recruitment to Mississippi State. “Well basically I found out Mississippi State was recruiting Cam through Mr. Newton, I didn’t know before then.” I’m wondering whether or not Cecil Newton maintained some sort of relationship with Rogers while his son was at Blinn and just picked up the phone one day and said, “Hey Kenny, your alma mater is recruiting Cam.”
To me, this is a very important point in all of this. If Rogers and Cecil Newton did in fact maintain some sort of active relationship while Cam Newton was at Blinn JC, then I can understand how Rogers ended up being some sort of intermediary in dealing with Mississippi State.
But if Rogers isn’t being truthful about the nature of that relationship, then in my mind that’s an issue that needs to be clarified. If contact wasn’t maintained, then why would Newton call Rogers specifically? Or did that even happen? If it was the other way around, I don’t find it a stretch to think that Rogers told Cecil Newton he could help extract money out of Mississippi State, which is the school he knows best.
Keep in mind that no other figure has come forward and said that Cecil Newton had an intermediary demanding money from Auburn, Oklahoma or Tennessee, which were others schools that were actively recruiting Cam Newton coming out of Blinn JC. Rogers himself has said he never had contact with Auburn, which is where Cam Newton ended up.
So you mean to tell me that Cecil Newton is demanding upwards of $180,000 for his son’s services and yet no one else can establish that a similar demand was made to other schools? Why was Mississippi State the only school that received this demand? That makes me believe that Kenny Rogers MAY have been the guy putting things in Cecil Newton’s head and not the other way around.
Also, I find it hard to believe that a Mississippi State football alum who appears to have ties to the program has to find out from Cecil Newton that his alma mater is recruiting Cam Newton. Especially in this age of bountiful internet recruiting info.
Now for the real meat of the Rogers interview, which was the following: “What I can say is on November 27 (2009), me, Mr. Newton and two coaches were sitting at the Hilton Garden Inn in Starkville and I really can’t remember how Mr. Newton stated this, but however he said it, one of the coaches was like, ‘No, no, I don’t wanna hear that.’”
Okay, the description of this meeting is very odd to me. If Cecil Newton is making the demand himself, why was Rogers even present? Think about it, if Cecil Newton’s son is being recruited by Mississippi State, wouldn’t he already have established relationships with the school’s coaches? Couldn’t he just have pulled them aside and made the demand himself?
That’s yet another thing that gives me pause about this scandal. If Rogers is a guy whose presence is commonplace in meetings between Mississippi State and recruits, that’s pretty damning stuff in my book. Was he present because he commonly orchestrates this type of meeting between Mississippi State coaches and recruits?
Rogers went on to give up another fascinating nugget concerning a conversation he allegedly had with Newton “He was like, ‘So, what do you think is gonna happen? You think it’s gonna go through?’ I said, ‘Well, I can’t answer that, I’ll just call Bill Bell.’”
Bell is owner of Bel-Mac Roofing Company in Santa Rosa Beach, FL and played for Mississippi State in the early 1980’s with Rogers. So why is he being called in a situation like this? There can only be one answer: he’s a point person for paying Mississippi State recruits and Rogers has dealt with him in similar situations in the past. What other conclusion can be drawn?
Here’s what Bell told ESPN.com yesterday:
Bell, when contacted Thursday night by ESPN.com, confirmed Cecil Newton did ask for money in exchange for Cam Newton signing with Mississippi State. Bell said he was contacted by the NCAA about the matter and spoke to an investigator earlier this week.
“That’s all I want to say about it at this point,” Bell said. (ESPN.com)
Jesus, ESPN, that was the only question you had for him? How about something along the lines of, “Why are you the guy being called in a situation like this? Have you ever paid anyone to come play football at Mississippi State? What’s the going rate for a new roof?”
I’m not trying to put an entirely new spin on this thing and imply that Cecil Newton was some poor, innocent dude who was suddenly enticed by the promise of money from Kenny Rogers. Hell, in the world of douchebag pastors, he could very well fall somewhere between Bishop Eddie Long and Jim Jones. But in a scandal where concrete evidence is hard to come by, what makes the scenario of Cecil being played by Kenny any less plausible than any other scenario?
Look at it in this brutally honest way: if you’re an elite football player, why the hell would you choose to play for Mississippi State over schools like Auburn or Oklahoma? How many times does Mississippi State coach Dan Mullen go head to head with the likes of Bob Stoops or Nick Saban and actually win those recruiting battles?
Mississippi State is a program that doesn’t have the very best facilities and has very little in the way of tradition. Compared to other SEC powerhouses, it’s a new Toyota Camry parked in a row of Ferraris.
Therefore, getting decent athletes to come play in Starkville takes some creative methods. It appears that one such method could possibly involve sending former players out in the world to buy them.
Cameron Newton received a new Jaguar and access to a time share in Palm Springs to play football at Auburn. Actually, it wasn’t a Jaguar, it was a Lexus, and the time share is in Aspen. And his mom got cash for a face lift, tummy tuck and boob job.
Of course I’m exaggerating, but that’s how crazy the rumors have gotten in the one short day since Pete Thamel of the New York Times and ESPN.com joined forces to put out the following:
During the height of star quarterback Cam Newton’s recruitment out of junior college last year, a man who said he represented Newton allegedly was soliciting a six-figure payment to secure his signature on a national letter of intent, ESPN.com has learned.
Former Mississippi State quarterback John Bond told ESPN.com a teammate of Bond’s at Mississippi State in the early 1980s contacted him soon after Newton’s official visit to Mississippi State during the Ole Miss game in December, and said he was representing Newton.
“He said it would take some cash to get Cam,” Bond said. “I called our athletic director, Greg Byrne, and he took it from there. That was pretty much it.”
Multiple sources told ESPN.com that Mississippi State called the SEC office with Bond’s information shortly after he brought it to the attention of the school. (ESPN.com)
Sportswriters love this kind of Woodward and Bernstein stuff, it’s much more exciting than writing preseason top tens or fluffy player profiles. After writing an exposé-type piece, I can picture Thamel running to the bathroom, finding the nearest stall, dropping trou and then masturbating violently to enhance the ecstasy. “I … just … blew … the … lid … off … something … ARRRRGGGGHHHHHH!!!!!”
There’s an awful lot of smoke to this story, but I can’t seem to find the fire. Therefore, I’m left with the following questions:
Where is the money? - A lot of big numbers have been thrown out there in regard to how much the price tag for Cam Newton’s services allegedly was. It’s anywhere between $180,000 and $200,000 depending on who’s telling the story. That’s a lot of scratch, and therefore should be fairly easy to trace back to the Newtons.
The problem is, there doesn’t appear to be any money trail leading from Auburn (or anywhere else) to the Newtons. Read the following from ESPN.com:
Cecil Newton said he first met Rogers two years ago, when Cam Newton left Florida. He said he talked to Rogers on several occasions to find out more about Mississippi State, but never met Rogers until Cam Newton’s official visit to Starkville, Miss.
Cecil Newton said the family received a letter from the NCAA “about a month ago” asking for financial statements. He said he submitted bank statements and records for the church where he is pastor, Holy Zion Center of Deliverance in Newnan, Ga., along with other records.
The church has been in the news in Coweta County, Ga., often in the past year. According to stories in The Times-Herald newspaper, Cecil Newton’s church was in danger of being demolished by order of the Newnan City Council in 2009 for failing to meet the city’s building code. One story said Cecil Newton told the council last September the building would be brought to code “inside of six months.” After numerous delays, extensions and compromises from the council, renovation work began last spring and The Times-Herald reported last week that the church is in compliance with Newnan’s building requirements.
“If you’ve ever seen our church, you’d know we don’t have any money,” said Cam Newton’s mother, Jackie. “We have nothing.” (ESPN.com)
If Cecil Newton is readily turning over bank statements, he doesn’t sound like a guy who has anything to hide. In regard to the church renovations, the story referred to in the quote above was written on September 23, 2009. In it, Winston Skinner of the Newnan Times-Herald wrote the following:
Newton told the council the building can be brought to code “inside of six months.” He also said the church has the money in hand to proceed with the work.
The council approved an extension for Holy Zion. Representatives of the church and the city are to work out a schedule with regular reporting on progress as the work is done. (Newnan Times-Herald)
Keep in mind that Auburn got into the Cam Newton recruiting derby very late in the game in 2009, a full month and change after this particular article was written. Also, if the money Cecil Newton had “in hand” to complete the renovations had come from Auburn, why didn’t his son commit to the school back then?
Also, if the Newtons demanded cash for Cam’s services in 2009, wouldn’t they have done the same back in 2007, when he was a 5-star signee for the Florida Gators coming out of high school? I can find nothing that even hints that there was any impropriety regarding Florida’s recruitment of Newton. But if the NCAA is casting its net in Auburn, they might as well take a look in Gainesville as well. You know, just to be sure.
Who is Kenny Rogers and just how sleazy is he? - I’ll let Thamel provide some of the details:
Rogers runs a business that matches football prospects with college programs. He also conducts camps in Illinois, Georgia and Alabama for potential prospects through a company called Elite Football Preparation that helps pair athletes with college programs. He told ESPNChicago.com that he specializes in transfers and players who have been kicked out of college. (New York Times)
Let’s not mince words, on the Slimeball Scale, Rogers is somewhere between Bryce Brown’s “trainer” Brian Butler and any given AAU basketball coach currently working today. I’m sure very little that Rogers does in regard to matching football prospects with college programs is on the up and up. Here’s more evidence of sleaziness:
Chicago-based agent Ian Greengross and an associate are the subjects of an investigation by the NFL Players Association that was referenced by NFLPA executive director DeMaurice Smith in an ESPN Radio interview Wednesday, according to multiple sources.
In the interview, Smith said the NFLPA is conducting an investigation into an agent and a recruiter — commonly referred to as a “runner.” Sources say that the agent is Greengross, and the recruiter is Kenny Rogers, who was working for Greengross. Smith said the recruiter — who he did not name — may have posed as an employee of the NFLPA in an attempt to influence players to hire the agent for representation. (ESPN.com)
But I can’t find any credible references out there that outline anything more than a casual relationship between Rogers and Cam Newton. It doesn’t appear that Rogers played a formal role in trying to match Newton to the college of his dreams.
In regard to the other end of the spectrum, that being Rogers’ possible interest in securing Newton as a client for Greengross, there’s nothing to be found there, either. When the NCAA went on its rampage against agents back in the late summer, Newton’s name never came up in regard to having any sort of relationship with Greengross.
However, that doesn’t mean that Newton didn’t reach out to Rogers. It’s easy to see how that might have come about, because Mississippi State is coached by Newton’s old offensive coordinator at Florida, Dan Mullen. Rogers played at Mississippi State and he’s got a reputation in the recruiting business, so it’s not a stretch that Newton sought him out to get information on the school.
Now does that mean that Newton and his family ordered Rogers to demand money from Mississippi State? Not in the least. When it’s a slimeball like Rogers who’s involved, it’s not a stretch to think he acted on his own. Records have shown that in at least one bank account, he was overdrawn by more than $11,000. Desperate people have been known to do desperate things.
What is Urban Meyer’s role in all of this? - Rumors are circulating that Urban Meyer urged Bond and Mullen to go public with these allegations. If that’s true, then it’s hard for me to figure out what he has to gain from this.
Is he bitter that Newton no longer plays for him? Does he hate Gene Chizik? In spite of having half his team get arrested, does he now think he’s the voice of conscience in college football? Who knows.
Does Pete Thamel have an ax to grind with Auburn? - This isn’t the first time that Pete Thamel has gone public with a story of questionable substance that ended up making Auburn look bad. A few years back, he did a piece about directed-reading courses at the school being a means for football players to maintain their grades while supposedly doing little or no work.
That story, published in 2006, implied that Auburn was basically committing academic fraud. Thamel glazed over the fact that the courses in question, given in the Sociology department, were mostly taken by non-athletes. The NCAA showed up, sniffed around, and left. Unlike the textbook selling scandal at Alabama, there wasn’t any wrongdoing uncovered related to the directed-reading courses.
If Thamel spent more time on the other side of the state of Alabama, he’d probably find more than enough earth shattering exposé-type features to occupy his time (and his right wrist) with. Hell, he’d probably win a Pulitzer. But he’ll most likely just keep fixating on Auburn.
Why is Auburn being so quiet about this? - I can imagine the NCAA has put a gag order on Auburn in regard to this subject. Granted, the downside of that is when nothing is coming out from the school, the fires of rumor and innuendo only burn that much more brightly.
But what if there’s nothing to say? It could be just that simple. If the university has done nothing wrong, there wouldn’t be much to comment on, regardless of whether or not the NCAA has a muzzle in place.
Folks like Thamel are quick to point out Auburn’s notorious past, but very little in the way of rule breaking has been associated with the football program since that Eric Ramsey fiasco in the early 90’s. And if you think Auburn’s compliance folks are a laissez-faire lot who don’t care about the rules, just ask the school’s men’s basketball coach, Tony Barbee, what kind of ballbusters they are.
Also, these allegations regarding Newton have been out there for a while. To that end I’m sure those same compliance folks did their due diligence before green lighting him as being ready to play.
When did Mississippi State get to be so holier than thou? - In regard to this story, people are treating Mississippi State as some sort of benevolent, Salvation Army-like organization. But isn’t this the same school that employs Rick Stansbury? And previously employed Jackie Sherrill? Give me a break.
Is Mark Schlabach a dumbass? - When he can’t learn the correct names of the schools he covers (it’s Auburn University, Mark, it’s not that hard), then yes, he is in fact a dumbass: