For those of you that don’t know, Cam Newton is the Heisman-winning quarterback for Auburn. However, some scandal has been following Newton due to his father (allegedly) soliciting money from Mississippi State in order for his son to go there (before Cam selected Auburn). The NCAA ruled that since it was Cam’s father, Cecil, who solicited the money, Cam’s eligibility should not be threatened. This ruling has been met with objections far and wide because people believe (a) Cam totally knew about it, (b) even if he didn’t he should be responsible for the actions of his father or (c) this sets a dangerous precedent wherein top-flight recruits can stay clean as long as they get their father to do their bidding for them.

The first argument, quite simply, lacks any proof. You may not need to prove it beyond a reasonable doubt as you would in court, but you do need something other than an emphatic totally.

On the second argument, some have argued that if USC can be penalized for actions that they were not directly a part of (Reggie Bush was given the frills by boosters) then Cam Newton ought to be similarly penalized. The distinction I see here is that USC is a large university with millions of dollars at its disposal while Cam Newton is a kid with a mischievous father. It is reasonable, in my view, to hold USC to a higher standard. If you give universities flexibility, they can come up with extremely elaborate ways to funnel money to their student athletes (many suspect they already do) with plausible deniability. The Newtons, while not poor (Cam’s brother is in the NFL) simply don’t have those kind of resources at their disposal. And most players, unlike Cam Newton, do not have siblings in the NFL. And because USC has these resources at their disposal, it is less unreasonable for them to be on top of what their student athletes (and their families) are up to.

The third argument is the strongest. Even if there aren’t sibling-professionals, it’s not hard to imagine kids getting some sort of intermediary with less to lose. However, there are two reasons as to why we should not fear it in this case. First, there is no proof that Cam knew what his father was up to, nor is there any reason to believe that even if he didn’t he should have. Had Cam committed to Mississippi State and had he suddenly been driving a new maroon Land Rover, then there would be reason to believe that he ought to have known something was up and if you don’t punish him for knowing before hand, you punish him for not coming forward afterward. I would still feel bad for Cam in this case since he would have to choose between ruining his college’s athletics program and relationship with his father and continued eligibility, but it would still be his decision to make.

Not only is there no proof that Cam knew about it, but there’s no proof that payments were ever received. More than “no proof”, I don’t actually think any were. Cecil Newton was enthusiastic about allowing the NCAA to look over his financial records, which suggests to me that he probably has nothing to hide. Perhaps he squirrelled the money away somewhere, but that defeats the purpose of getting the money since Cam is about to become a multimillionaire NFL player. So why take the chance for money you’re not going to be able to touch until your family is swimming in it? Unless, of course, he’s worried that Cam is not going to share the wealth, in which case it becomes probably the case that Cam didn’t know about it (if he and his father are not that close).

What I suspect happened is that Cam was leaning towards Auburn (by far a better football program than MSU) and either he decided that his mind might be changed for the right payoff or that Cecil was running his own scam and had little idea of where Cam was going.

So how do you prevent this from happening in the future? By keeping an eye on the situation and coming down hard on Auburn if they made (or should have known about) any payments. Since Cecil appealed directly to Mississippi State rather than boosters, if Auburn is complicit then it seems likely that they were pretty directly involved. Ultimately, though, you go after those with the most to lose. That’s not Cam Newton, in this case. If he had been declared ineligible for the SEC championship, he would still be a millionaire by the next draft. If he had been caught at the outset and not able to play, the kid is talented enough that he would still have a shot at the NFL through backchannels. What, are they going to penalize him for taking money for playing football? Meanwhile, you can come down pretty hard on Auburn (though, preferably, not by vacating wins but instead limiting scholarships and postseason play) in a way that matters to them.

This fear may have actually played a role in Mississippi State taking a pass on Newton. Or maybe they just didn’t have the money.

In the end, without some sort of evidence that the Newton family actually received money, and without evidence that Cam actually played a hand in negotiations, I believe that the NCAA made the right call. I am not worried about this becoming commonplace (or moreso than it already is) because it relies on the families of these players hiding the money and a degree of plausible deniability by the players.

On a sidenote, there is an irony here. With USC being on the wrong side of an NCAA investigation, their national title was vacated. The #2 team (that went undefeated that year) made some noise that they ought to be given the title. The number two team? Auburn Tigers.


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14 Responses to The Case For Cam Newton

  1. Peter says:

    There are relatively few major American institutions which I find more pointless than the NCAA.

  2. web says:

    I can’t agree with the notion that Cam is blameless. It’s not a case of “did he know”, it’s a case of “should he have known” that his father was soliciting, and I can’t see a case where he shouldn’t have known his father was doing something underhanded.

    The fact that Cam went to Auburn and MSU didn’t pay anything isn’t relevant; the fact that Cam’s family were soliciting money is. No matter where the “monetary connection” was in the decision factor, it was an improper influence. The only way you could possibly avoid this would have been for MSU to have immediately told Cam’s father that he was violating the rules, CC’ed the NCAA for immediate notice (which they apparently failed to do), and let the chips fall where they may BEFORE Cam became a Heisman winner.

    As for the money-funneling and payoffs and other things… based on the number of cheating athletes I’ve seen “hushed up” at SoTech, I’d say that cheating, “perks”, and everything else are par for the course and that the whole NCAA system is basically corrupt.

  3. Abel says:

    NCAA athletes should be paid. Period.

  4. trumwill says:

    Web, I might agree if any payments were made. If there were a new car or a new house in Florida that Cam had to rationalize away. But without money, there is no real trail unless Cam is reading his father’s email or checking the text messages on his father’s phone.

  5. trumwill says:

    Abel, should high school athletes be paid, too?

  6. Mike Hunt says:

    For those who haven’t seen the documentary Pony Express on ESPN, you should watch it.

    abel: NCAA athletes should be paid. Period.

    With the exception of football and men’s basketball, no one cares about college sports. Field hockey players and baseball players are lucky to get scholarships.

  7. Mike Hunt says:

    Actually, the documentary is called “Pony Excess”.

    It re-airs tonight at 8 EST on ESPNU.

  8. Peter says:

    With the exception of football and men’s basketball, no one cares about college sports.

    The University of Connecticut’s women’s basketball team is one of the most dominant teams of all time in any sport. Yet most of their games are televised on Connecticut Public Television, in other words taxpayer-subsidized television. Commercial networks aren’t interested.

  9. trumwill says:

    I’ve been meaning to watch Pony Excess. It looks interesting.

    One of the things that has surprised me about getting satellite is that college hockey is getting a fair bit of play.

  10. web says:

    Abel,

    If you want NCAA athletes to be paid, I agree. Moreover, the NCAA itself should be banned from all colleges, and instead should go be what it really is, which is a farm league for “professional” sports that the pro-sports leagues are too damn lazy to run themselves.

    When I think of the money SoTech wastes on their “semipro sports” division each year, it makes me furious that the lazy assletes are let anywhere near campus.

  11. web says:

    Oh, in case it’s necessary, when I refer to “assletes”, I refer to a previous post which may clear up questions on my position regarding “student athletics” at colleges.

  12. trumwill says:

    Paying athletes would have the potential to cause the system to collapse* given that most universities are financially struggling as it is. If I wanted to watch a league with 30 or so teams where the athletes go to the highest bidder, that’s what the NFL is for.**

    * – I recognize, of course, that Web and many others would not see this as a bad thing.

    ** – I also recognize that many seem to think that having a carbon copy of the NFL played on Saturdays would be a good thing.

  13. Maria says:

    Here’s one vote for keeping college football “amateur.” Money and free agency have destroyed the NFL. They don’t play real football anymore; they play human chess.

    Regarding the Pony Express documentary on the SMU “death penalty”, my DH and I both watched it. A riveting account.

  14. trumwill says:

    I find it interesting that those that favor paying players are also often those that say (a) we need a playoff and often but less frequently say (b) we need fewer teams (ie non-AQ teams do not deserve to be there and neither do low-performing AQ teams).

    Let’s see… 30-someodd teams, playoff, paid players… this is all starting to sound rather familiar…

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