We now enter Week 4 of the Cam Newton controversy at Auburn and people have been asking me why I haven’t said a word about it. Truth be told, I wanted to wait until there was some sort of ruling. But now, I feel inclined to write something because I think I know why there hasn't been a ruling yet, and this has nothing to do with Cam Newton.
First, let’s clear the air. Unless an Alabama booster had 10 million dollars at his disposal to devise the most elaborate smear campaign of a college athlete ever, Cam Newton is getting paid to play college football.
But while it is certainly illegal for that to happen, I feel like Newton’s father is playing a far greater role in this than we have been led to believe. And no matter how badly you want to call a college football player a man, that man is still going to listen to his parents.
Second, let’s get another thing clear. If you think that Cam Newton is the only major college athlete getting paid, you are absolutely delusional. In a 2006 survey of former college athletes, more than 50 percent of former men’s football and basketball players said (anonymously) that they knew at least one person that was getting money under the table for their athletic participation.
Not even two weeks ago, a prospective college athlete told me that a prestigious university in the northeast gave his friend thousands of dollars worth of free clothes just as an incentive to further consider going there to play basketball. It is easier for me to point out the Division I programs that absolutely, positively, do not cheat than it is to point out the ones that do.
The question is whether or not they get caught. Take Reggie Bush for example. USC admitted that they knew he was getting money, and retroactively punished themselves; as did the NCAA.
But that doesn’t change the fact that USC’s success in Bush’s two years: a) made USC’s athletic department a ton of money, b) without question increased both interest and enrollment in the institution, and c) increased donations and giving from alumni. These are the documented and proven results of having a successful college football team.
What you don’t see however is the other side…the side that is literally hemorrhaging money because they are spending so much money on football that they can’t earn revenue for all the other sports that are offered.
What people don’t understand is that football has literally turned into its own separate entity, while nearly every other sport (sans men’s and women’s basketball, and men’s ice hockey) has more or less been left in the dust. On this side, athletic directors know that they annually operate in a deficit of nearly four million dollars per school; even in the institutions with the most illustrious athletic programs.
So let’s add up the factors here. You have a star athlete who is being accused of taking hundreds of thousands of dollars to play football at Auburn. You have another SEC school making the accusation. You have the SEC Commissioner, Michael Slive, who has had all of this information, documented, for eight months.
You have a conference that is losing money in record fashion, in the midst of a seemingly endless economic recession. And most importantly, you have Auburn, who has become your conference’s only ticket to a BCS title game, a 20 million dollar reward, and millions more in television revenue to be distributed equally through the conference.
Get the picture?
Michael Slive got his gig at the SEC not just because of his experience as a commissioner elsewhere, but also because of his experience as the head of a law firm that specialized in defending universities in legal disputes over athletics. So if anyone should know what’s going on, it’s him. Slive is going to let this season play itself out and ride the tide.
If Auburn wins out and wins the national championship, Slive will retroactively “take all the evidence into account” and punish Auburn, but not before getting all of the extrinsic rewards of Auburn’s national championship. But I’d say look out for something sooner. Because as soon as Auburn loses, Slive is going to come out and reveal everything, and then it looks like he swiftly came to a decision.
And when this happens (I am guaranteeing you that it will), Cam Newton will be as big an enemy to college sports as Reggie Bush ever was. But here’s the truth. The only people who will have the audacity to call out Cam Newton will be the same people who made Tiger Woods look like the most unforgivable man in world history.
And they don't have a grasp of reality. They are the Jay Mariotti's of the world. The people that scream “infidelity!” and then get caught physically abusing their girlfriends or wives after cheating on them.
And once we get past the fact that we are holding people to a standard that literally doesn’t exist in our country anymore, it may be time to examine who the real enemy is here. Because even though the rest of the country will be looking to see how the NCAA handles Auburn, I will be looking to see how the NCAA handles Michael Slive for handling this entire situation in the worst way possible.