Seth Emerson commentary: Georgia beat writer explains why he didn't vote for Cam Newton -- and sent in a blank Heisman Trophy ballot

December 10, 2010 

By SETH EMERSON

semerson@ledger-enquirer.com

Cam Newton is a wonderful college football player. The Auburn quarterback is the best player in the country this year. He is going to win the Heisman Trophy; there’s little doubt left about that.

But he didn’t get my vote. No one did.

I decided to abstain this year, given the major reservations I have about the Newton situation -- and the near-equal discomfort that would have come with voting for the second-best player.

This was not about some silly moral stand. It was about feeling strongly enough about my vote that I didn’t want to hold my nose while casting it. So I opted to sit this one out.

Why hold Newton responsible when he’s eligible? Because we’re allowed the discretion. I am not a jury member voting on whether to send someone to jail or even to take away his livelihood. It’s an award. That gives me the right to decide whether I’ve seen enough to merit withholding a vote for Newton.

I did.

By having Reggie Bush forfeit his trophy, the Heisman Trust established a precedent that off-field behavior -- specifically, acts that impact a player’s NCAA eligibility -- affect the award. The trust did not award the 2004 trophy to Vince Young, that year’s second-place finisher. So that established a precedent that voters don’t automatically strike the first choice, then move to No. 2.

Yes, the NCAA has said Newton is eligible. But I don’t work for the NCAA. I don’t take direction from them. I’m free, as are all voters, to examine the facts and come to my own conclusions. And here’s what we know: The NCAA has found that Cecil Newton, Cam’s father, engaged in a pay-for-play plan, aimed at Mississippi State. SEC commissioner Mike Slive even said the father’s acts were “unacceptable.”

But the NCAA also has ruled that Cam Newton didn’t know about the scheme. So we are left to wonder:

Whether Cam Newton not knowing about the scheme passes the smell test.

Whether it matters that the Newtons are on record, in Sports Illustrated, saying that Cecil Newton decided Cam Newton would go to Auburn.

Then there’s the precedent being set by saying a player won’t be penalized for family members or coaches shopping him around. As many have said, this could lead to a Wild West scenario in recruiting.

The commissioners of four of the other BCS conferences -- the Pac-10, Big 12, ACC and Big Ten -- have expressed reservations about the NCAA letting Newton play. Goodness knows the amount of other administrators who privately feel the same way.

Yes, Slive has said he will propose a rule to plug the “loophole” in NCAA rules that supposedly doesn’t allow for Cam Newton to be penalized. But does that not show that Slive, and presumably many others in the NCAA, acknowledge that under the ideal conditions, Cam Newton should not be eligible to play right now?

Basically, the whole thing’s a mess.

My decision to abstain was difficult: It’s my first time as a voter; I’ve always admired the Heisman; and I was looking forward to the privilege of voting. But this was no way to remember the first time.

Not that it will matter. I’m one of more than 900 voters, and plenty of my colleagues, people I respect, voted for Newton without hesitation. That’s fine. This wasn’t about a protest vote.

This was just about me. Any time I cast a ballot, I want to be able to say I did so proudly and without reservation. This time, I just could not.

Contact Georgia beat writer Seth Emerson, semerson@ledger-enquirer.com

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