Cam Newton and his family have to be thrilled. Not just at the fact that Cam had a spectacular, Heisman Trophy winning season. Not just that he led the Auburn Tigers to their first official national championship in more than half a century.
They have to be thrilled that he made it. With storm clouds of doubt brewing all season over the alleged actions of his father, in attempting to sell his son to Mississippi State, somehow the family, and the team, managed to navigate the tricky waters and make it all the way through to the end without a suspension or major sanction.
Now that it's over, it's time to jump ship and move on to the NFL. Right? They'd be crazy to come back and risk things truly blowing up in the next year. Leave all that mess behind them.
It's not just pundits and people like me that think this, either. The NCAA would like nothing more than to wash its hands of Newton. Here's why.
Cam Newton's been in college longer than it seems.
He started way back in 2007 at Florida, where he was originally recruited and served as the backup to Tim Tebow. He played sparingly for two years before transferring to Blinn Junior College for one year, and finally moving on to Auburn this year.
He's already had a longer and more well travelled collegiate career than 99 percent of other college athletes. The NCAA thrives on the infusion of new blood. The constant turnover is what makes it exciting. Discovering new talent, making new connections.
Because of that turnover, lots of teams have a legitimate chance to turn things around each year. But if Newton stays, that chance is diminished. Auburn would be a prohibitive favorite once again.
You've had your time here. Move on.
With all the talk this season about Cam's dad and Mississippi State, what Cam did at Florida has been buried.
A contributing factor to why Cam left Florida a couple of years ago is because off various off-the-field incidents that he was involved in while he was a Gator.
Namely, he was charged with stealing another Florida student's laptop, and was suspected in multiple cheating incidents. The laptop theft issue went away after some court approved intervention, but the academic impropriety was perhaps a bigger gathering storm at the time.
Newton, and the NCAA, largely avoided dealing with the potential ramifications of that issue when he left Florida after the Fall 2008 semester. Did he leave because of a potential cheating scandal? It's hard to think that didn't play a role.
If he stays in school, more attention may be focused on that issue. If he leaves, maybe it'll go away again.
For all the attention on the off-field issues surrounding Newton of late, the public at large still mostly sees the story as an uplifting one.
Newton, buried behind a Heisman Trophy winner at one school, starts from scratch, wins a Junior College championship and builds his own legacy somewhere new. In one season, he's gone from virtual unknown to the name on everyone's lips. He's the Heisman Trophy winner, the BCS National Champion.
If he leaves now and goes out on top, a winner, the NCAA gets to keep its feel good story. He's been cleared of wrongdoing for now. If he stays, though, his story stays at the top of websites like this one, and attention focused on the negative side of the story only intensifies.
And if that happens, it won't be good for the Newtons, Auburn, the SEC or the NCAA at large.
It's a story that always rises to the surface every now and then, only to be buried under the excitement surrounding the games themselves before anything ever changes.
Major college sports are an exercise in hypocrisy. Auburn makes tens of millions of dollars for winning the National Championship this season. The SEC as a whole takes in a windfall every time one of its member schools claims the prize.
Head coach Gene Chizik is a millionaire, with a $2.1 million salary, and millions more in bonuses and endorsements. The coach, the school, the boosters, the conference and the league make money hand over fist in this deal. Tickets, concessions, parking and the biggest prize of all, TV money.
Only one class of people don't get paid. The players.
I'm not the first person to rally against this inequity, and I won't be the last, but it's just an unfair system. The BCS bowl system is unfair to the sport (sorry, TCU), but the general money system is unfair to the lives of countless student athletes.
If Newton stays, that story continues to get played up. If he heads to the NFL, he gets paid his millions, and that story once again loses steam for a while.
You've heard it enough already.
The SEC is the best conference in the country. An SEC school has now won the BCS National Championship five years in a row, and seven times in the BCS era.
Teams like Auburn, Alabama, Florida and LSU are perennially ranked among the top teams in the nation, and countless SEC players go on to excel in the NFL every year.
The SEC enjoys lording its dominance over the rest of major college football. You know who doesn't like it? Everyone else. Dynasties aren't good for competitive balance, and ultimately, interest in the sport begins to suffer as a result.
If Newton stays in school, it's one more reason for the SEC to get an even bigger head than it already has. If he leaves, at least that's one less thing standing in the way of schools from every other conference.
Yeah, as the biggest star in the game, Newton would seem to be someone that college football would want to keep around as a drawing card. But I have a counter-intuitive argument against that, here, so bear with me.
Newton's continued presence, as already discussed, continues to attract negative attention from the media at large, including even the non-sports media. That attention after a while begins to seep into the public's consciousness and drag down the reputation of the brand as a whole.
The NCAA obviously doesn't want that. They'll trade the loss of a star player in the short-term in exchange for the lack of negative publicity and eventual brand erosion it would lead to. Never mind that Newton's won't be the last scandal of this type to emerge, it's the big one right now.
So if he goes away, much of that negative attention goes away. As painful as it might be to hear it, stars are largely interchangeable. There will be another big star who emerges next season. Brand equity is more important.
Stanford's Andrew Luck has already decided to stay in school next year.
The NCAA loves that, because Luck has no scandals attached to him (for now ... always gotta add that caveat). He's clean as a whistle. Stanford is a well respected school with a glowing reputation. No smoke here.
If Newton stays, he continues to somewhat overshadow Luck and his story on the West Coast. He continues to draw the conversation towards impropriety and back room dealing.
With Newton at the next level, Luck gets more attention focused on him. On his squeaky clean image and stellar academic record. The NCAA would like nothing more than to be able to point to that, and forget about the unseemly underbelly it's always doing its best to hide.
The Reggie Bush scandal was the latest in post-mortem investigations that have taught us a number of things.
For me, one of the major things they've taught is that far less people care after the fact. Yes, the school is still affected in terms of lost scholarships and possible ineligibility for postseason play, but in the end, do people really look at the teams from those years any differently?
Do people really say that USC didn't win the National Title or that Reggie Bush didn't win the Heisman? Do people look back at UMass in 1996, for instance, and say that they didn't make the Final Four? Of course not. They did what they did on the field, and nobody can really retroactively take that away.
Sure, Auburn might get hit with sanctions in the future, but they will always have the memory of this perfect season. With Newton still around next season, though, there is a greater chance that any future sanctions will include suspending him from the team, which translates into actual performance on the field being affected.
No after-the-fact "forfeiting of wins" that people really just snicker about. Real life, tangible suspensions that can't be laughed off. All parties involved want to avoid that.
If the other day was the last time that Cam Newton suits up in an Auburn Tigers uniform, it gives the NCAA more time to sort everything out.
They were derided this season for their handling of the investigation. Many people openly wondered why Newton wasn't suspended back at the beginning.
He was actually declared ineligible for a brief time in early December, but didn't miss any action and was quickly reinstated a few days later, in time to accept the Heisman and prepare for Oregon. The situation casts the investigation as dragging its feet, not being proactive enough and basically a joke.
But if he's not playing anymore anyway, then the NCAA doesn't have him essentially openly mocking them every time he pulls on the jersey. They can take their time without worrying about how every game he plays in will potentially be stricken later.
And what of the Heisman voters? They can exhale in not having to worry that he'll win the award again.
Auburn themselves obviously have to be thinking about this fact, as well. As great as he is, it's far simpler and less risky for them without him on their roster anymore.
It always comes down to this in the end.
Most other reasons why many people around college sports would like nothing more than to say goodbye to Cam Newton eventually boil down to money.
All the talk about the media drawing people's attention to the Newtons' alleged impropriety, to the NCAA's hypocrisy, is relevant because it has the potential to change people's opinion of the sport. Specifically, it has the potential to change TV execs and sponsors opinions of the sport.
Perhaps networks try to use the negative publicity as leverage to pay less for their deals. Sponsors could do the same thing. The powers-that-be will always seek to do everything in their power to, above all else, keep milking the cash cow. Keep that cash flow going.
If they figured some way to spin things where Newton staying would make the sport more money in the long run, they'd be scrambling to make that happen.
Let me just say that I'm not trying to insinuate that this is all Cam's fault. Like everyone else, I don't know all the facts, and I can only root for him to succeed and do good things moving forward.
Nonetheless, there's nothing to make any story more American than the almighty dollar.