Cameron Newton. He’s the Quarterback of the Auburn University Tigers, the 2010 SEC Champions. He’s going to play for the BCS National Championship on Jan. 10th, 2011. He’s a leading candidate for the Heisman Trophy. He’s a handsome young man….that’s not integral to the story, but hey, it’s out there.
Cam Newton plays the most high-profile position for the most high-profile team in arguably the most high-profile conference in all of college football. But if you pay any attention to college sports, you know that much of his media coverage this year has had little to do with football.
Newton has spent most of this football season involved in controversy about either he or his father accepted money in exchange for his services as a quarterback. In early November, officials and boosters from Mississippi State University began making accusations that Newton’s father, Cecil Newton Sr., was seeking and received money in exchange for his son to attend and play at MSU.
Cam Newton, of course, claimed to have no knowledge of this situation. Nevertheless, it was enough to put a shadow on his entire playing career, and cast doubt over every yard he gained and every touchdown he threw all season long.
The NCAA and SEC investigated and found that while the elder Newton did solicit money, there was no proof to support the allegation that Cam Newton knew anything about it. Eligibility intact, Newton went on to beat South Carolina in the SEC Championship game.
That’s the abridged version. But before we go any further into thoughts and feelings on Newton, let’s get a good time-line of all the events that have transpired:
February 7, 2007: Westlake High School quarterback Cameron Newton signs his letter of intent to attend and play for the University of Florida.
Summer 2007: Newton passes fellow freshman QB John Brantley to become the backup QB for Tim Tebow.
September 2007: Newton plays in the opening game against Hawaii, but hurts his ankle in the game. He decides to take a medical red shirt for the year.
November 21, 2008: Newton is arrested on felony charges of burglary, larceny and obstruction of justice after purchasing stolen property. When the stolen property was found in his possession, he was suspended from the football team.
December 2008: Newton withdraws from the University of Florida.
January 2009: Newton transfers to Blinn College in Texas.
Fall 2009: Newton leads Blinn College to a NJCAA National Football Championship.
Summer 2010: After being heavily recruited by several high profile schools, Newton commits to Auburn University.
You already know the rest, so there’s no need to reiterate. That being said, let’s take a look at the time-line. Somewhere between fall 2009 and summer 2010, the Newtons were on top of the world. They had their pick of schools begging for their son’s services.
It was around this time that Cecil Newton was allegedly heard saying, “It’s going to take more than a scholarship to get Cam to play for Mississippi State.” Again, there is no concrete evidence to suggest that this was actually said, or that Cam knew about it.
But now that we know what did happen, and what might have happened, here’s what you should know before you praise or condemn Cam Newton.
1. The NCAA Makes an Obscene Amount of Money from Student Athletes
After all expenses are paid throughout the season, the NCAA makes well over $700 million a year from football alone. The conferences that have schools in the BCS Championship Game this year will make at least $18 million to be spread throughout the schools in the conference.
The SEC and ACC have television contracts with ESPN, FOX and CBS. The Big Ten has its own television network. The NCAA has a deal with ESPN and EA Sports to produce a college football video game every year. Every school sells jerseys, shirts, hats and other memorabilia year round.
The student athlete never sees a dime of this money.
Scholarship athletes are owed tuition and rooming. That means they can attend classes and have a place to sleep. Nothing else is included in the standard student-athlete scholarship. Also, until a few years ago, the NCAA did not allow student-athletes to hold a job.
So if we have an organization that generates so much revenue, yet shares little, if any, of it with the people responsible for bringing the money into the organization in first place, some would make the valid argument that it’s an unfair system that might force otherwise straight-laced students to take chances with the rules just to get by.
2. Cam Newton DID Break the Rules
There’s no two ways about this. We’re very clear on what the allegations are and what Cam and his father’s stories are. Eliminating all emotions, feelings and opinions, here’s is the rule, as written by the powers-that-be of the Southeastern Conference in conjunction with the National Collegiate Athletic Association:
“If at any time before or after matriculation in a member institution a student-athlete or any member of his/her family receives or agrees to receive, directly or indirectly, any aid or assistance beyond or in addition to that permitted by the Bylaws of this Conference (except such aid or assistance as such student-athlete may receive from those persons on whom the student is naturally or legally dependent for support), such student-athlete shall be ineligible for competition in any intercollegiate sport within the Conference for the remainder of his/her college career.”
Remember, we’re not talking about if the rule is fair or just; we’re talking about the fact that it exists and is supposedly enforced. The rule talks about the actions not only of the student-athlete, but also any action taken on behalf of the student-athlete by his family.
In laymen terms, this means that Cam Newton is an adult, and he wants to attend a college as a student and as a football player. This makes him responsible for everything that happens around him, whether he is directly or indirectly involved. Do I think this rule is fair? I do not. However, that is the rule, and now we have a clear explanation of the rule.
So taking into account that explanation, examine the “pay for play” controversy again. Cecil Newton is Cam Newton’s father (student-athlete's family member). Whether he actually received money or not, he at least attempted to receive money in exchange for his son’s commitment to an SEC school (agrees to receive, directly or indirectly, any aid or assistance beyond or in addition to that permitted by the Bylaws of this Conference).
The NCAA investigated and determined that the allegations of his father’s involvement were true, and thus has consequences (such student-athlete shall be ineligible for competition in any intercollegiate sport within the Conference for the remainder of his/her college career).
So by the official definition of the rule and the facts that we know about the case, Cam Newton has broken the rules and was ineligible to play in the SEC Championship game against the University of South Carolina, and remains ineligible to play in the BCS Championship Game. But this brings me to my next point:
3. The NCAA Greatly Benefited from Having Cam Newton Eligible To Play
Since Auburn had long ago taken hold of the SEC West division, the SEC Championship Game was set on Nov. 13th when South Carolina beat Florida and won the SEC East division.
Since that time, speculation was high as to whether Cam Newton was going to be eligible to play in the championship game. When Auburn met South Carolina in the regular season, Auburn had to come behind in the fourth quarter with two touchdowns to win the game.
Most thought that Auburn’s poor defense (which some consider to be the worst defense to ever play in a championship game) coupled with the lack of a dual threat like Cam Newton would spell disaster for the Tigers in the championship game.
Also, South Carolina had already beaten a No. 1 ranked SEC team with their victory over Alabama earlier in the season. All signs pointed to one thing: Auburn cannot win without Cam Newton. So for a moment, let’s see what happens to the BCS picture is Cam Newton doesn’t play and Auburn loses to South Carolina:
If No. 19 South Carolina were to beat No. 1 Auburn, they would win the SEC Conference and receive an automatic bid to the Sugar Bowl. There’s no way they could play in the BCS Championship Game being ranked as low as No. 19.
However, if Auburn had lost and Oregon had won (which they did) this would have created a situation where Auburn could have been knocked out of its No. 1 ranking. This would move Oregon into the No. 1 spot.
Now, Auburn could still potentially play for the BCS Championship with one loss on their record. However, there was a very good chance that the No. 3 team would have leap-frogged Auburn (no pun intended-you’ll see in a minute) and taken the No. 2 spot. And who would that be?
Texas Christian University. The Horned Frogs. They are the 12-0 winners of the Mountain West Conference. An Auburn loss would have meant that TCU and Oregon would be the highest ranked undefeated teams in the country.
So what happens if TCU makes the BCS Championship? Well, that’s a lot less money for the SEC, because they wouldn’t have a team in the national championship game (which would be for the first time since 2006).
Revenue sharing among the large conferences would have suffered horribly. The ratings for the game would have been awful; who wants to watch Oregon play a non-BCS conference team that barely gets on national television?
And with TCU taking the No. 2 spot and South Carolina receiving an automatic Sugar Bowl bid, Auburn would be relegated to…the Capital One Bowl or the Cotton Bowl! Can you imagine?
Can you see the picture I’m painting? Auburn losing the SEC Championship game does not bode well for anyone’s wallets. A lot of people stood to lose a lot of money of Auburn didn’t remain No. 1 in the BCS.
The simple answer is to make sure Auburn stays a winner. How do you do that? Keep Cam Newton eligible.
4. Whether He Broke the Rules or Not Has Nothing To Do With His Ability To Play Football
I’ve said it before and I’ll say it again: gratuities cannot make you a better football player. I’m not commenting on whether it’s right or wrong for college athletes to accept money, gifts or anything like that.
The point is that rules, guidelines, money, gifts and everything else he’s been accused of have absolutely nothing to do with the things that Cam Newton has done on the field this season.
He’s led Auburn to an undefeated season in arguably the most competitive conference in all of college football. He’s completed a staggering 67 percent of his passes. He’s passed for 2,589 yards. He’s thrown 28 touchdowns and only six interceptions. His play on the field speaks for itself. He’s a skilled football player. Not because schools offered him money, but because he’s a hard worker and a gifted athlete.
In my humble opinion, the fourth point is the one that more people need to think about. We’ve spent this season talking about Cam Newton in the NCAA and Reggie Bush in the NFL as if they were criminals.
Both have been accused of being offered and, in some cases, taking money while they were student-athletes. Everyone is so focused on the rules and the guidelines and the tarnished legacies and bad publicity. The word “cheating” has been thrown around rather loosely.
My question is: What, if anything, do any of these allegations have to do with actual SPORTS? How do these things in any way affect what happens on the football field? Did the money Reggie Bush got from those boosters and agents make him run faster? Did it make him take harder hits and keep going? Did the car he allegedly received from those same boosters allow him to score more touchdowns?
If not, then I don’t see why we keep talking about “gratuities” and “cheating” like they’re interchangeable terms. Let me assure you, I’m not saying that neither player did anything wrong. I’m also not saying that we should be paying college players on a level that we’re playing NFL players. What I’m saying is, let’s separate guidelines and game play.
Let me put it this way: If I went up to a non-football fan with no knowledge of rules and guidelines in the NCAA, and asked him if a student-athlete should be allowed to play football if he’s committed murder, the answer is obviously no!
What about if he’s committed assault? No. Burglary? No. Weapons violations? No. But what if I ask him about a student-athlete that received an iPhone from a former student-athlete from that school? Hmm…seems harmless. Sure, let him play. But why?
The NCAA seems to punish players receiving gifts and money the same way they punish players that are doing things that are actually against the law. The REAL law. FEDERAL LAW.
Now this procedure seems to sit well with those involved in organizing, covering and even just watching college sports. But to the average person, it’s asinine. “Why are you punishing that kid? He’s a kid! He just wants a little money.”
So what I’m saying, if I’m saying anything, is that contrary to popular belief, the concept of NOT viewing a student-athlete who accepts gratuities with the same contempt we hold for criminals, while foreign to the “powers that be,” is common sense to everyone else.
While I don’t deny that rules were broken, I simply do not believe that’s the real issue. I would like to know why we’re so up in arms about Cam Newton possibly breaking a rule that’s thoroughly enforced when convenient and easily dismissed when bothersome.
And since the only thing consistent about the rule is its sporadic treatment, I would like someone to explain why it’s necessary at all. If there was a federal or state law that was consistently broken, arbitrarily enforced and benefited only a small percentage of the population, we would beat down the doors of the politicians until something was changed.
That being said, NCAA, what are you waiting for?