AUBURN, Ala. -- The NCAA concluded that Cam Newton’s father broke rules by engaging in pay-for-play talks with another school last year. But it also decided the Auburn University quarterback did not know about the scheme and is eligible to play Saturday when the No. 1 Tigers take on South Carolina in the SEC championship game.
The NCAA determined Monday that Cecil Newton’s actions during his son’s recruitment to Mississippi State last fall constituted a violation of amateurism rules.
Auburn discreetly ruled Newton ineligible Tuesday, as required when a violation is found, but sought his immediate reinstatement, which was granted Wednesday by the NCAA student-athlete reinstatement staff with no additional penalty.
“In determining how a violation impacts a student-athlete’s eligibility, we must consider the young person’s responsibility,” said Kevin Lennon, NCAA vice president for academic and membership affairs. “Based on the information available to the reinstatement staff at this time, we do not have sufficient evidence that Cam Newton or anyone from Auburn was aware of this activity, which led to his reinstatement.”
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The NCAA release did not officially close the case on Newton, saying reinstatement decisions are independent of the enforcement process and typically are made after facts of the student-athlete’s involvement are determined.
Donald Jackson, a Montgomery-based attorney who specializes in cases regarding NCAA eligibility issues, said on Paul Finebaum’s radio show that he wouldn’t rule out the continuation of the enforcement investigation, but he said it isn’t likely.
“A lot of the facts and a lot of the issues that would be addressed in the enforcement staff investigation probably have already been addressed during the course of this investigation,” he said.
Jackson said if the NCAA enforcement staff decides to levy sanctions against Auburn in the future, it “would essentially be acknowledging the fact that they failed to adequately investigate it the first time.”
While not a definitive end to the saga, it at least temporarily eases concerns of Auburn fans that the Tigers’ national title hopes and Newton’s Heisman Trophy candidacy could be in jeopardy.
“I’m glad to get all that behind us,” Auburn head coach Gene Chizik said, “because we’re focused on one thing -- and that’s winning the game in Atlanta.”
Chizik did not entertain other non-football related questions about Newton, who hasn’t missed any practice despite the off-field turmoil.
Mississippi State first reported concerns about Cam Newton’s recruitment to the SEC offices last January.
The NCAA, in conjunction with the schools, looked into the matter this summer, but the story made national headlines in the last month after two Mississippi State boosters publicly said they were approached by ex-teammate Kenny Rogers seeking $100,000 to $180,000 on behalf of Newton’s father.
The NCAA said Wednesday that its enforcement staff and Auburn agreed that Cecil Newton and the owner of a scouting service worked together to “actively market the student-athlete as part of a pay-for-play scheme in return for Newton’s commitment to play football.”
NCAA Bylaw 12.3.3 prohibits individuals or entities from representing prospective student-athletes in order to gain compensation from a school.
As part of the decision, Auburn has limited the access Newton’s father has to the athletics program. Asked to clarify, Auburn spokesman Kirk Sampson wrote in an e-mail: “That’s a private matter between (athletics director) Jay Jacobs and Mr. Newton.”
Rogers was not named in the report, but Mississippi State has disassociated itself from him, Rogers’ lawyer, Doug Zeit, confirmed to the Jackson Clarion-Ledger.
“The conduct of Cam Newton’s father and the involved individual is unacceptable and has no place in the SEC or in intercollegiate athletics,” SEC commissioner Mike Slive said. “The actions taken by Auburn University and Mississippi State University make it clear this behavior will not be tolerated in the SEC.”
Auburn offered no further comment on Wednesday’s release, although Jacobs wrote a letter to students and season ticket holders explaining the school’s stance.
“Some of you have been frustrated by our inability to comment publicly on this matter in recent weeks and by the absence of factual information amidst the firestorm of reports,” he wrote. “Your frustration is understandable. The Auburn Athletics Department declined to comment on these recent reports out of respect for the process. To do otherwise would not have been in Auburn’s best interest or in the best interest of our student-athletes, and we hope you understand that.”