So far no ‘smoking gun’ showing any wrongdoing by Auburn
By ANDY BITTER
AUBURN, Ala. — For a fleeting moment Wednesday, the SEC Twittersphere went crazy, overloaded by an erroneous report that the NCAA was set to suspend Auburn quarterback Cam Newton.
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It wasn’t true, debunked after a mere 10 minutes, just the latest bout of hysteria in the Newton saga, which has taken a life of its own in the last week.
New allegations and details have emerged on a daily basis, citing ubiquitous unnamed sources. Meanwhile, Auburn has boldly stood behind its Heisman Trophy candidate quarterback.
Despite allegations late Tuesday night in an ESPN.com report that Newton and his father spoke to “two sources who recruit for Mississippi State” about a pay-for-play plan last year, Auburn head coach Gene Chizik said nothing has changed with his quarterback’s eligibility.
“Cameron Newton will be playing Saturday against the Georgia Bulldogs,” Chizik said during the SEC teleconference.
Chizik refused to answer any questions about Newton, leaving plenty of unknowns. Here are but a few questions and answers about this messy situation:
What is the latest?
The newest allegations came out late Tuesday night in a story by Joe Schad of ESPN, who said Newton and his father, Cecil, spoke to “two sources who recruit for Mississippi State” about a pay-for-play plan during separate phone calls last year.
According to the report, Cecil told one of the recruiters it would take “more than a scholarship” to bring his son to Mississippi State. Another source said a recruiter claimed Newton told him he wanted to go to Starkville but his father had chosen Auburn for him because “the money was too much.”
On Wednesday, Mississippi State released a statement confirming it did contact the SEC offices in January regarding an issue with Newton’s recruitment. The school claims it followed proper procedure and said it cooperated fully with the ensuing NCAA investigation.
What does the report mean by “sources who recruit for Mississippi State”?
It’s awkward phrasing. Schad had four unnamed sources in the story, two of which “recruit” for Mississippi State.
Only coaches are allowed to recruit, per NCAA rules. Asked today if anyone on his staff other than coaches are registered with the NCAA as “recruiters,” Bulldogs coach Dan Mullen said, “No.”
What is Auburn’s involvement?
The insinuation in the Schad report is that the source who spoke to Cam believed Auburn paid to secure the quarterback’s services, but no proof exists that is the case, a recurring theme in the ongoing story.
Although suspicions have arisen in circumstantial evidence — Cam admitting his father chose Auburn for him despite his preference for Mississippi State, Cecil’s church being under financial stress — none of it explicitly connects the dots that Auburn has done anything wrong.
After being given information from the SEC offices this summer, Auburn officials insist they investigated the matter and found no wrongdoing. The school has not received an NCAA Letter of Inquiry.
Cecil Newton, meanwhile, has turned over bank statements and church financial documents to the NCAA, which has an ongoing investigation.
Why the huge gap in time from when MSU reported it to the SEC and when the conference acted?
Mississippi State cleared that up somewhat in its statement Wednesday.
The SEC followed up the initial call by requesting specific information, including interviews with staff members involved. But MSU could not respond immediately because of “ongoing and time-consuming eligibility issues involving non-football matters” throughout the winter and spring.
The school provided additional information to the SEC in July.
If any of this is true, why was Newton allowed to play this season at all?
That’s a good point. Auburn has known about the issue since the summer and found no reason to hold Newton out. Either that is the result of due diligence in investigating the matter or utter hubris on the part of the school’s compliance office.
Programs usually err on the side of caution in such matters, quick to withhold players whose eligibility could be in question. It’s what Georgia, Alabama and North Carolina did during NCAA probes earlier this season.
Auburn has taken no such action with Newton and, judging by Chizik’s recent statements, doesn’t plan to.
Is this related to last week’s ESPN.com story alleging former Mississippi State player Kenny Rogers, claiming to represent Newton’s interests, requested $180,000 from his alma mater to secure the quarterback’s services?
There appear to be similarities, but it’s unclear the overlap. Former MSU quarterback John Bond was the one who initially said he was approached by a former teammate who asked for money during Newton’s recruitment. ESPN independently identified that teammate as Rogers.
Rogers denied the allegations. The Newtons denied wrongdoing and any such association with Rogers.
Bond has since clarified his story, saying there were intermediaries in the conversation between him and the former teammate allegedly soliciting money. That makes it a second-hand account far less damning.
Do allegations of Newton’s academic misconduct at Florida play into this matter?
In short, no. While not flattering, they have nothing to do with Newton’s current eligibility, considering that he has not once, but twice been accepted into colleges since three alleged instances of academic cheating at Florida.
Neither Blinn College nor Auburn decided anything on Newton’s academic record would preclude him from admission.
How long until we find something out?
The NCAA has been known to move with the speed of a glacier in investigating such matters. The Reggie Bush fiasco at Southern California first surfaced in 2006. The NCAA didn’t rule until this year.
Could it expedite the process, considering the player involved is a leading Heisman Trophy candidate who plays for a national title contender?
Possibly. But it’s unlikely the NCAA will rush things at the expense of ruling judiciously.
Translation: it could take a while.
What does this do to Newton’s Heisman Trophy candidacy?
Voters decide the Heisman winner and negative reports involving Newton’s name are sure to sway some of them.
A few, in fact, have already said they will not vote for Newton based on the allegations. There is also the fear of a repeat situation with Bush, who was retroactively ruled ineligible and forfeited his 2005 Heisman Trophy.
Will those thoughts cost Newton the Heisman?
Perhaps. But he has been the consensus frontrunner for the last couple weeks and may have built a large enough lead in the voters’ minds to soften any hit he might take.
Unless any concrete evidence emerges linking Newton to any wrongdoing, he should get an invite to New York.
What’s the end result?
Although the story doesn’t seem to be losing steam, there remains no smoking gun. No accounts of money actually changing hands exist and no recorded phone calls (despite Internet rumors) have yet emerged.
Ideally for Auburn, the NCAA will conclude its investigation and declare no wrongdoing on the school’s part, closing the case. That may take months.
The worst-case scenario is that evidence emerges that Newton received illegal benefits at any point throughout his recruiting process.
Even if it’s not directly associated with Auburn, it would bring Newton’s eligibility into question, thus jeopardizing everything the Tigers have accomplished this season.