Having covered the SEC for nearly 20 years, I thought I’d seen it all.
Great players. Legendary coaches. Sordid scandals. Bitter feuds.
But then came Wednesday’s stunningly bizarre ruling on Cam Newton.
Ever since, I’ve been asked by friends, relatives, SEC fans, non-SEC fans and people who don’t even like football just exactly what happened.
As one person said, explain this to the common man, because it makes no sense.
My first response was that every move the NCAA makes doesn’t make sense.
But here’s my best college try.
The NCAA concurred with what ESPN.com reported last month, which is that Newton’s father, Cecil Newton, shopped his son to Mississippi State, thus violating NCAA rules.
As pointed out by the NCAA in its release, there is hard evidence that this solicitation occurred, and both the NCAA and Auburn are in agreement that it occurred.
Auburn was informed on Monday that NCAA amateurism bylaws had been violated, and the school on Tuesday – without making it public – declared Cam Newton ineligible.
Obviously expecting this ruling to come down at some point, Auburn had been building its case, and on Wednesday, successfully won its reinstatement case to have Cam Newton’s eligibility restored.
A couple of things to consider here are that the NCAA’s student-athlete reinstatement committee is a separate entity from its enforcement staff. And even more importantly, Auburn based its case for reinstatement on its contention that neither the school nor Cam Newton had any knowledge of the pay-for-play scheme cooked up by Cecil Newton, who went through former Mississippi State player Kenny Rogers as the middle man.
The fall guy was Cecil Newton, whose punishment is that he will have limited access to Auburn’s football program, which I guess means you won’t see him hanging around the locker room after games. Similarly, Rogers was disassociated from Mississippi State.
Yet, Cam Newton plays on.
Most people who live outside the 334 area code look at this entire situation and shake their heads in disgust.
First and foremost, a father shopping his own son for money?
Not only that, but we’re all to believe that Newton – who was 20 at the time – never had any clue that his father was so far down the path of trying to sell Cam's services to Mississippi State that Cecil Newton was instructing Rogers to send text messages to boosters outlining the payment schedule?
I’ll let everybody make up their own minds as to what they do and don’t believe.
And we won’t even broach the obvious next question: So Cecil Newton just arbitrarily quit shopping his kid after the first pay-for-play attempt was unsuccessful?
Again, make up your own mind.
But the facts are this: There is no evidence at this point that Auburn did anything wrong, that Cam Newton or anybody received a cent or that Cam Newton knew anything about his father’s shady dealings.
And as simply as I can say it, that’s the reason he’s still playing.
Conspiracy theorists will have a field day with the fact that he’s the best player in America and playing for the No. 1 team in America and that there’s no way the NCAA would ever sit that player down as potentially the two biggest games of the season approach.
I think it’s safe to say the NCAA is feeling some heat. If you don’t think so, see NCAA president Mark Emmert’s statement Thursday on the Cam Newton ruling.
Still, I ask South Carolina fans, Alabama fans, Arkansas fans and fans of all schools to put yourselves in Auburn’s shoes right now.
How would you feel if you were No. 1 in the country and your Heisman Trophy front-runner was declared ineligible merely on a high presumption of guilt 12 games into an unbeaten season?
And that’s exactly where it is right now.
In a month, three months or 12 months, there might be evidence that Newton knew everything or that he was a willing participant. It also might be proven that he was an innocent pawn in this whole convoluted affair.
Either way, the NCAA investigation continues, and Newton presses on to what he and Auburn hope will be the Tigers’ first national championship since 1957.
Sure, it’s a black eye for the SEC, which has battled the “If you ain’t cheating, you ain’t trying” rap for years.
Clearly, there’s a giant loophole, too, in the NCAA and SEC bylaws that needs to be fixed in a hurry when a parent can shop his kid and there are no repercussions for the kid.
And this whole interpretation by the SEC of its own bylaw 14.01.3.2 sounds like a bunch of legal mumbo jumbo to me.
Here’s the way it reads:
“If at any time before or after matriculation in a member institution a student-athlete or any member of his/her family receives or agrees to receive, directly or indirectly, any aid or assistance beyond or in addition to that permitted by the Bylaws of this Conference (except such aid or assistance as such student-athlete may receive from those persons on whom the student is naturally or legally dependent for support), such student-athlete shall be ineligible for competition in any intercollegiate sport within the Conference for the remainder of his/her college career.”
So why then is Cam Newton not ineligible, according to SEC bylaws?
The SEC’s explanation is that there was no evidence that Cecil Newton ever agreed to receive money, only evidence that he solicited money.
Maybe it’s just me, but don’t you agree to receive money the minute you ask somebody for it?
Regardless, talk about open season for every shady relative out there now who wants to make a quick buck.
It’s been a great season, a memorable season in a lot of ways, and Cam Newton is the most dynamic football player I’ve seen in this conference since Herschel Walker.
But if you don’t reside in that 334 area code, it’s a season that will forever have an asterisk attached to it.