It was my hope this morning to take a break from the ongoing, sordid saga that as become the Cameron Newton story and write about what is going to be another great football weekend:
We have the No. 2 team in the nation (Auburn) trying to stay alive in the race for the national championship against a traditional rival (Georgia) which needs a signature win to save its season.
We have the drama of a winner take all game at Florida where Steve Spurrier, the former Gator coach, has a chance to take South Carolina to its first-ever SEC championship game.
But the Cameron Newton story has sucked all of the oxygen out of this college football season. It’s sad. But you can’t ignore it even if you want to.
So for the second straight week we will not do our Fearless Friday Forecast. Here, based on a very long Thursday, is where I believe we are on the Cameron Newton Story:
We are quickly reaching critical mass. Two big events happened yesterday that make me feel this way.
Remember that ESPN.com reported on Wednesday that: “Two sources who can recruit for Mississippi State said that Cecil Newton and his son, quarterback Cam Newton, admitted in separate phone conversations to a pay-for-play plan while Newton was being recruited last year.” The claim was that Newton told Mississippi State coaches that he wasn’t coming to Starkville because his dad got a deal to ship him somewhere else. Let me also point out that there is no evidence and no one claiming directly that Auburn has broken any rules.
Yesterday we reminded you that Mississippi State originally brought the idea to the SEC that there might be some problems with Cameron Newton’s recruitment. The SEC asked for more information but that additional information was not forthcoming until July. So inquiring minds wanted to know why, if Mississippi State had direct info that Newton had made this claim to staff members, wasn’t this dealt with this summer? That is a very serious charge.
But the SEC, through spokesman Charles Bloom, revealed that in the reports that it received back from Mississippi State on this issue there was no mention–none–of any such conversations between staffers and the Newtons. I independently confirmed that last night with the SEC office.
So on this matter we are left to draw one of three conclusions:
1. Mississippi State did not share that information with the SEC because it did not want to get that deeply involved in the case and hoped it would just go away.
2. The conversations that were reported by ESPN.com may have taken place but were not with Mississippi State assistant coaches or the head coach (the only people allowed to recruit under NCAA rules) but were with lower level staffers. Thus the Mississippi State brass was not aware of them.
3. The conversations never took place and were incorrectly reported.
Here is the second big item: Last night Kenny Rogers, the former Mississippi State player who started this story, decided to “come clean” on a talk show in Dallas. Accompanied by this attorney (who was on the phone), Rogers told host Ian Fitzsimmons that he and Cameron Newton’s father, Cecil, met with Mississippi State coaches in Starkville on Nov. 27, 2009. Rogers said Cecil Newton asked for money to sign his son and that one of the Mississippi State coaches said “No, no I don’t want to hear that.”
Rogers said later in the interview that Cecil Newton told him that it would take “Anywhere between $100,000 and $180,000″ for his son to sign with Mississippi State.
I spoke with Fitzsimmons last night and he confirmed that all of the reporting on Rogers’ appearance was accurate.
We now have a new name in this this mix. Bill Bell is a successful Mississippi State booster and told ESPN.com last night that Cecil Newton did in fact ask for money to sign his son. Rogers said that he was referred to Bell on the issue of money. Bell also said he has already discussed this matter with the NCAA.
Rogers also said that he first contacted Cecil Newton to offer his help when Cameron left Florida. Rogers said that Cecil Newton said, in so many words, ”It’s not gonna be free this time.”
Folks, I’ve been covering this league a long time but it looks like were are definitely in some uncharted waters here. Just a few observations as we move forward:
**–I know Mississippi State has a game on Saturday with Alabama, but if I’m the SEC I want every coach on that staff, including the head coach, to look me in the eye and tell me if Cecil Newton or Cameron Newton actually made those claims. And if those coaches lie to me they will be fired on the spot and will never–EVER–get another job in college athletics again.
**–The FBI has gotten involved and we’re not sure why. But former Mississippi State player John Bond, whose contact with Kenny Rogers started this story, said yesterday that he’ll be talking to the FBI.
**–Cecil Newton is not talking to the media any more and has lawyered up.
**–This story has been going on for more than a week and there is not one allegation that Auburn has done anything wrong. I am not saying I know Auburn hasn’t done anything wrong. We don’t know. I am familiar with the enforcement and compliance staff over there led by Rich McGlynn, and they are a pretty tough bunch. If they had some evidence that Cameron Newton’s father got money from anybody to sign his son, the school would have to sit him. It looks like a roll of the dice to me given all the smoke but you can’t sit the kid if you don’t have some evidence.
**–Does the mere solicitation of money, even if it was not acted upon, constitute an NCAA rules violation? There seems to be some debate on that. An NCAA spokesperson told Yahoo Sports that, in general terms, if somebody solicted money on Newton’s behalf, even if the solicitation was not acted upon, then that constitutes an NCAA violation. Attorney Don Jackson, who represents athletes in cases such as these, questioned that claim when he appeared on Paul Finebaum’s show yesterday. But if that is true and the NCAA has reason to believe that somebody solicted money for Newton, including Newton’s father, the NCAA can recommend that Auburn sit Newton down until the matter is resolved.
**–If that happens, Auburn will have a decision to make. Remember that it is the responsibility of the institution to sit the player if there are possible rules violations. That’s what Georgia did in the case of A.J. Green. Once the player is suspended, then the institution applies for reinstatement. In the case of Green the NCAA denied reinstatement until after Green served a four-game suspension. So this isn’t on the NCAA or the SEC. It’s on Auburn. And as of Friday morning Auburn appears to be ”All In” on Cameron Newton. If you love Auburn, and have a lot of friends who do, you had better pray Jay Jacobs and the rest of that staff are right.
Stay tuned. This story is moving fast and a lot could happen between now and Saturday’s 3:30 kickoff.
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