AUBURN, Ala. — As it set about preparing for Georgia with a chance to clinch an SEC title game berth, Auburn had to come to the defense of its Heisman Trophy candidate quarterback Cam Newton for the second time in five days following reports he committed academic misconduct during his two years at Florida.
The latest twist in the Newton imbroglio prompted an angry response from Auburn coach Gene Chizik, who called the reports “pure garbage” at his weekly news conference and openly wondered who was behind them.
“I’m standing up here on a very important week trying to defend something that, quite frankly, is garbage,” Chizik said during a 4 1/2-minute opening statement. “Is there a wizard behind the curtain? I don’t know and I don’t care. But what I do care about is coming to the defense of not only a great football player, but a great human being who comes from a great family.”
ESPN reported late Tuesday night that two sources who recruit for Mississippi State said Cecil Newton and his son asked for a pay-for-play plan from the school in separate phone conversations during the quarterback’s recruitment last year.
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Mississippi State compliance officials relayed the alleged conversations to the SEC offices in January, according to the report. What is not clear is how this would not have affected Newton’s eligibility prior to the season.
According to the report, one of MSU’s recruiters said Cecil told him it would take “more than a scholarship” to bring his son to Starkville. The source said the school refused.
After the quarterback committed to Auburn, a different source said an emotional Cam phoned the recruiter to say he was sorry about changing his commitment from Mississippi State. Cam allegedly said Cecil had chosen Auburn for him because “the money was too much.”
Of the allegations thrown at Newton in the last week, this is the first directly linked to the quarterback’s family and to specifically mention Auburn.
It’s been widely reported that Newton’s preference during the recruiting process was to go to Mississippi State, while his father chose Auburn for him.
Four days after reports that a man claiming to represent Newton’s interests asked Mississippi State for a six-figure payment during the quarterback’s recruitment last year came a Fox Sports report that said Newton faced possible expulsion from the University of Florida for three instances of academic cheating.
The report, citing a single unnamed source, said Newton violated Florida’s honor code by cheating in class during his freshman year.
It alleged a second violation in 2008 when he put his name on another student’s paper and turned it in. Newton then turned in a second paper that had been purchased off the Internet.
According to the source in the report, Newton was set to appear in front of Florida’s Student Conduct Committee during the spring semester of 2009. He transferred to Blinn College in Texas in January of that year.
Newton avoids commenting
Newton did not confirm or deny the reports of cheating Tuesday.
“I’m not going to entertain something that took place not three months, not six months, not even a year, (but) two years ago,” he said. “I’m not going to sit up here and say anything about it, whether I did or did not do it, because I think I don’t want to beat a dead horse talking about it. It’s not going to affect me in any way, shape or form.”
Newton, who signed with Auburn in December, has said repeatedly that he chose to leave Florida on his own accord, needing a fresh start following his arrest for theft of a laptop in November 2008. Newton maintains he purchased the stolen item unwittingly. The charges were dropped after he completed a pre-trial intervention program for first-time offenders.
Newton also said future playing time was a factor, with Tim Tebow choosing to return for his senior season and John Brantley as a future competitor at quarterback. Tebow announced he was returning for his senior season Jan. 11, 2009, while reports of Newton’s decision to transfer began as early as Jan. 5 of that year.
The Fox Sports report said Newton was not enrolled at Florida for the spring semester when he decided to transfer.
The accusations come on the heels of last week’s ESPN.com report that former Mississippi State player Kenny Rogers claimed to represent the Newton’s family’s interests when he asked for $180,000 from his alma mater to secure the quarterback’s signature last fall.
Newton and his family have denied any wrongdoing and have turned over bank and financial documents to the NCAA.
Auburn has stood by the quarterback’s eligibility throughout the matter, with school sources saying the issue was investigated thoroughly this summer. An NCAA investigation is ongoing.
Oklahoma’s Bob Stoops, who joined Auburn and Mississippi State in recruiting Newton last fall, told The Associated Press that the Sooners didn’t encounter anything irregular during the process.
TMZ Sports reported Tuesday that the FBI has requested a meeting with former Mississippi State quarterback John Bond, who was the person Rogers allegedly came to with the request for money. Bond said he turned the information over to school officials, who relayed it to the SEC offices.
More details on claims
The timing and sourcing of the latest reports have raised eyebrows, considering the Tigers are 10-0 and ranked No. 2 in the Bowl Championship Series rankings.
Contacted by the Ledger-Enquirer, Newton’s father, Cecil, said he could not comment, a more restrained stance than what he took during interviews earlier on Tuesday.
“Any logical thinking individual should stand back and say, ‘What is really going on here?’” he told AuburnUndercover.com.
Cecil Newton told the Paul Finebaum radio show that “this is a character assassination attempt.”
“Am I hurt? No. Am I curious? A little bit,” Cam Newton said. “But it really doesn’t bother me that much. I’m a blessed individual.”
Multiple reports linked Florida coach Urban Meyer to leaking the first story about Newton, leading to rumors that he was behind Tuesday’s story as well. Meyer has denied any connection to either story.
“For anyone to think that I or anyone on our staff may have leaked information about private student records to the media doesn’t know us very well,” Meyer said in a statement. “It’s a ridiculous claim and simply not true.”
In the meantime, Auburn officials lined up in support behind Newton. Auburn athletics director Jay Jacobs went to the drastic measure of releasing a statement regarding the latest reports.
“These allegations and rumors about Cam Newton are unfortunate and sad because they seem intent on tearing down the reputation of a young man who has done everything we’ve asked him to do,” Jacobs said. “Cam has been and continues to be completely honest with us.”
Jacobs said he could not comment specifically on Newton’s academic records because it violates federal privacy laws.
“We will not go down that path or stoop to that level as others have apparently done,” he said. “We will, however, emphatically say that Cam is eligible to play football at Auburn University both academically and athletically.”
Chizik stood by Newton’s Heisman Trophy candidacy, despite concerns the latest reports could sway voters against him.
“He’s one of the leaders in the Heisman race because he deserves it. That’s fact,” Chizik said. “Distractions and whatever is out there, whatever people want to drum up and dream up and try to distract — it is what it is and it’s not changing. Cameron is going to be focused on playing Georgia this week.”