Does the NCAA Stand for “No Cam Accountability Allowed”??

We have been supporters of Auburn’s Cam Newton all season long.  His performance has deservedly made him the leading candidate for the Heisman Trophy.  He’s the first player in the SEC to have passed for over 2,000 yards AND rushed for more than 1,000 yards in a single season.  Newton has the led the Tigers to a number one national ranking and, in all likelihood, a real shot at the BCS national championship.  On Saturday, he and Auburn will play for the SEC championship in a game versus South Carolina.  Looking at these stats, it is easy to justify Newton’s position as the #1 Heisman hopeful.

“Pay to play “allegations have been swirling around Newton and his father, Cecil Newton, for weeks.  The accusations were that Cecil and a former Mississippi State Bulldog player (who is now the owner of a scouting service) worked together to asked Mississippi State boosters to pay $180,000 in order for Cam to play for the Bulldogs.  Both Cam Newton and his father have denied all allegations.

For weeks, Cam Newton has refused to speak to the media about the ongoing NCAA investigation.  Instead, he has continued his phenomenal performances and has handled the scrutiny and pressure quite well.  Last weekend, he brought the Tigers back from a 24 point deficit against #9 Alabama.  The victory was a real testament to Newton’s incredible athletic abilities and focus.  Cam accounted for all  TDs in the comeback and his performance truly reinforced his first place standing in the race for the Heisman.  Based on ability alone, Newton should win the Heisman hands down.

But the past few days have brought new information to light.  The NCAA has been investigating the pay-to-play allegations since the summer.  Based on their investigation, they ruled that a violation of NCAA rules had been committed by Cecil Newton and Kenny Rogers, the former Mississippi State player.  Specifically, on Monday the NCAA ruled that a violation of Cam Newton’s amateur status had occurred.

Following NCAA guidelines, a school must rule an athlete ineligible if they are told that a possible violation has occurred.  Therefore, on Tuesday, Auburn ruled Cam Newton ineligible to play and then immediately requested that he be reinstated.  The very next day, Wednesday, the NCAA cleared Newton to play “without conditions”.

The NCAA statement said, in part…

The student-athlete’s father (Cecil Newton) and an owner of a scouting service (Kenny Rogers) 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.

The NCAA went on to say that they did not have “sufficient evidence” to prove that Cam was aware of his father’s attempt to sell his athletic services.

These fast and unexpected developments have certainly raised a few eyebrows.  Isn’t it quite convenient that the NCAA could reinstate Newton so quickly, given the importance of this weekend’s game against South Carolina?  If Newton had not been ruled eligible to play, Auburn’s chances against South Carolina would be greatly diminished.  If Auburn were to lose, the third ranked BCS team, TCU, would be the next contender for the national championship game.  Is it possible this factor influenced the members of the NCAA?  Yes, it seems that given the money and prestige of the BCS, the idea of a much less prominent school like TCU in the title game could have influenced the NCAA’s decision.

Furthermore, given the strict and rigid rules of the NCAA, how could they so easily accept the idea that Cam Newton was unaware that his father was trying to sell him to the highest bidder?  The NCAA routinely cracks down on small, simple violations by athletes, like accepting a dinner invitation or small gift!  In this case, there are SERIOUS allegations and now, apparently, enough evidence to implicate Newton’s very own father.  Frankly, it is just plain hard to believe that Cam was not aware of his father’s actions.

The NCAA’s ruling that Cam Newton is eligible to play was made by the body’s reinstatement committee.  However, the NCAA’s enforcement staff, a separate and independent group from the reinstatement committee, is continuing its investigation.  While Auburn may very well go on to win the SEC title and the BCS National Championship, and Newton may win the Heisman, the case is far from over. 

When allegations surfaced about NCAA violations involving Reggie Bush and USC, it took 4 YEARS for the case to be closed.  That case resulted in Bush returning his Heisman award and USC receiving major sanctions against the football program.  So, for Auburn and Cam Newton, the NCAA ruling is good news in the short term.  In the long run, this latest ruling could be meaningless.

Cam Newton’s football performance this season is Heisman worthy.  There is simply no argument about it.  With only 4 days left for voters to return their Heisman ballots, it is quite likely the winner may have already been selected.  We believe Cam Newton will win the coveted award.  What is unclear is whether he, like Reggie Bush, will be forced to relinquish the Heisman should more proof about what he knew come to light.

The NCAA’s lenient ruling in the Cam Newton saga truly is puzzling.  Given the stakes involved, it is more than surprising that they simply took Cam at his word that he was unaware of his father’s illegal and immoral actions.  For whatever reason, it seems the NCAA has decided to stand for the “No Cam Accountability Allowed” body, rather than the stringent, authoritative governing organization it has always been. 

Only time will tell whether the NCAA made the right call on Cam, or whether they were influenced by outside forces to allow him to continue his run for the Heisman, SEC title and possible national championship title.  What is clear, however, is that the NCAA’s latest Cam Newton ruling opens the door for other student athletes to simply deny knowledge of any potential violations committed by others on their behalf.  The ruling has set a dangerous precedent and is a potential serious problem for future NCAA investigations into player conduct.

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