Cam Newton and Today's College Football: Pay to Play or Penalize?

Howard RubenContributor INovember 17, 2010

Cam Newton, Tracy Wolfson (CBS),  and Auburn Coach Gene Chizik
Cam Newton, Tracy Wolfson (CBS), and Auburn Coach Gene ChizikMike Zarrilli/Getty Images

By Howard G. Ruben

We live in a world of instant news, which often results in insulation and accusation. Character assassination is all the rage in America, and the media feeds on what seems like an endless appetite for salacious rumors and speculation about who did what to whom.

Auburn phenom Cam Newton is the latest superstar athlete to take a public beating for alleged misdeeds prior to and after entering college.

Football fans know the story thus far, though it seems to be growing by the hour:

  • Newton and his father are accused by sources of telling Mississippi State officials that it would take money for him to sign and play football at their school. According to a report in USA Today, former Mississippi State player and recruiter Kenny Rogers is said to have made the accusations and is cooperating with NCAA investigators. Apparently, the FBI is also going to get involved in the case.
  • Newton originally attended Florida, where he was alleged to have cheated on several tests, including signing his name to one test that was not his. He also was accused of having stolen someone’s laptop computer.
  • A number of sportswriters are already saying that Newton’s situation could affect their Heisman Trophy votes, even though Newton is still an eligible NCAA player and has been found guilty of nothing.

So, where does this all end? I have absolutely no idea whether or not Cam Newton is guilty of a “pay for play” infraction. Surely that would cost him and the Auburn program dearly.

But what is clear to me is that college football is rife with inconsistency when it comes to enforcement of their eligibility rules for student-athletes. The Reggie Bush affair at USC brought a once proud (some say “arrogant”) program to its collective knees when the NCAA threw down some heavy-duty sanctions, including loss of scholarships and banishment from attending bowl games for a couple of years.

But then it seems that other programs are getting off scot-free when it comes to illegal recruiting activities. I offer up two ways in which to try to solve this ever-worsening issue:

1. Pay players to play. They are the reason major schools are reaping in millions of dollars every year from sold-out stadiums, sales of merchandise, television revenues and bowl appearances. Why not treat the players like professionals? College football is a big-time business, so shouldn’t the players be able to cash in on the business they help support?

2. Toughen the rules and sanctions for everyone. Hit ‘em where it hurts: Kick players off teams, take away their scholarships and ban schools from postseason play—and fine the school for their infractions. 

Reggie Bush is in the NFL making millions of dollars. Maybe he feels bad about what happened to USC, but it certainly has not affected his pro career. If the NCAA investigators had come down on him and the school while he was still there, perhaps that would have driven home a much stronger message.

I am one person who thinks that cheating in college football recruiting and scholarship practices goes on daily across the country. It’s because money talks and young kids, away from home for the first time, are often tempted to take cash because someone tells them they “deserve” it.

There is no clear-cut answer to this growing problem, and neither of my suggestions will solve it entirely. The reality is that we either pay players a monthly stipend or strictly enforce the rules by increasing the investigations and the penalties for cheating. The gray area is just making the sport look ridiculous.