Why the NCAA got it right in the Cameron Newton case

There are a lot of people in Athens, Ga., Tuscaloosa, Ala., and Los Angeles, Calif. who are going to get mad at this statement. But here it goes:

Based on what  its investigators have determined, the NCAA got it right with Wednesday’s ruling on Cameron Newton.

Early Wednesday afternoon the NCAA announced that Auburn’s quarterback was eligible to play immediately. That statement became necessary because on Monday the NCAA determined that a violation of amateurism rules occured when Newton’s father had conversations with a former Mississippi State player about a possible pay-for-play scheme. The NCAA informed Auburn of this and the school, as it must, declared Newton ineligible on Tuesday (How they kept that secret is amazing). Auburn petitioned the NCAA to reinstate Newton as soon as possible. The NCAA  committee that determines these types of things granted that reinstatement on Wednesday.

That was the process.

The NCAA enforcement staff has been investigating this case since last summer. Here are their findings as of Monday:

**–Newton’s father and the owner of a scouting service (various media reports have identified this man as former Mississippi State player Kenny Rogers) had conversations about a possible play-for-pay deal for the son’s services.

**–Cameron Newton had no knowledge his father’s actions.

**–Neither Auburn University nor anyone representing its athletics interests had any involvement in or was aware of the activity between Cecil Newton and Kenny Rogers.

That’s it.

Now if you’re a Georgia fan and you saw A.J. Green lose four games for selling a jersey, you think there is a double standard. Same at Alabama, where Marcell Dareus sat two games for accepting travel expenses to attend that infamous agent’s party in South Florida. At USC they are wondering why they got hammered. From the Trojans’ perspective Reggie Bush’s parents had their hands out just like Cecil Newton. All Cecil Newton got was limited access to the Auburn football program in the future. Big deal.

They are thinking that a high-profile player (Newton) and a high-profile league (SEC) got a pass from the NCAA  just three days before a high-profile team (Auburn) played in a high-profile game (SEC championship) that was worth a lot of money to everyone concerned. This also had to get tidied up because the Heisman Trophy is going to be presented a week from Saturday (Dec. 11) and how uncomfortable would it be for the winner not to talk to the media?

I get all that. In the internet age nothing just happens anymore. Nobody just looks at a set of facts and makes a decision. It is always part of a vast conspiracy to keep the rich and powerful in their positions of wealth and power and to keep somebody else down. There are always larger forces at work.

There is a big difference between the three cases above and the Newton case. In those cases there was a finding of FACT that money and extra benefits actually changed hands. Green admitted he received $1,000 for the jersey (whether or not that should be a violation is a different argument). Dareus admitted that somebody paid his way to South Florida. It took a four years but the the NCAA proved, to its satisfaction, that almost $300,000 in benefits went to Bush or his parents.

In the Newton case, the father solicted money either directly or indirectly in his conversations with Rogers and, at this point, there is no evidence that money or extra benefits ever changed hands.

Now a lot of you are simply not going to believe that the kid did not know what the father was up to. A lot of you refuse to believe that Cecil Newton and his contact only solicted money from one school (Mississippi State) which said no. A lot of you believe this ruling  just opens the door for parents to sell their sons to the highest bidder–as long as they keep their talented sons in the dark. I can’t tell you how many people told me on Wednesday that this was a “slippery slope.”

Maybe it is. But remember that a slippery slope can slide both ways. If the NCAA punished School A because a father solicted money from School B (and no money changed hands and school A didn’t even know the solicitation took place), now you have another slippery slope where the possibilities are endless. If I’m a recruiter at school B and lost a recruit to school A, when the head coach starts chewing on my butt I can just put it out there that the parent solicited money from me and get school A in trouble and take the heat off me.

The fact is that on Wednesday the NCAA issued a very narrow ruling in an area where there is a gap in its legislation. We know that the mere solicitation is a violation of amateurism rules, which is why Auburn had to suspend Newton on Tuesday. An NCAA representative told me the knowledge, or the lack thereof, of the athlete is a “mitigating factor” in whether or not the athlete is eventually reinstated.

But can you punish a school that is not involved in that solicitation simply because the athlete chose that school? Do you at least have to have evidence that the school did something wrong?  Eventually, the NCAA will have to get some clarity on this issue.

Now could the facts on the ground change? Could there be evidence uncovered in the future that contradicts the current findings of the NCAA enforcement staff? Of course.

But the NCAA can only make its ruling based on what it knows today. Because of the unique nature of this case, the NCAA owed it to everybody involved to get some kind of resolution if it was possible. Thus, Newton is eligible to play on Saturday against South Carolina.

One more thing. A number of you sent me this rule from the SEC’s bylaws:

 
14.01.3.3. Financial Aid. 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.

I checked with the SEC and the rule above does not apply in the Newton case. That’s because the key passage is: “AGREES to receive, directly or indirectly.” In this case there is evidence that Cecil Newton, directly or indirectly, SOLICITED extra benefits. There is no evidence, at this point, that there was an agreement (such as a handshake agreement) by one party to pay and another party to receive an extra benefit.

If it is ever proven that Cecil Newton agreed to receive money instead of just talking about it, then we have a whole new ball game. But until that day comes, the NCAA has to apply the rules as written. Stuff like this is why the NCAA bylaws look like a copy of the Manhattan phone book. Those rules are going to have to grow in order to account for this case. And until it does, the kid gets to play.

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872 comments Add your comment

Integrity

December 3rd, 2010
7:10 am

Believe me when I say this is not just about the reactions of Georgia, Alabama, or USC. “At this time”, the problem is not even with Auburn. I’m not certain, however, that soliciting money from an institution on behalf of a family member is any different than an agreement to take the money. This is all about the integrity of the game of college football…..and the whole nation is watching.

Michael

December 3rd, 2010
7:10 am

Dillon Baxter didn’t know the student driving him in a golf cart on the USC campus was an agent, but he was still suspended for one game. Suddenly, whether or not the athlete knew a violation had occurred determines whether or not he’ll be held accountable.

Tony, perhaps you’d care to share with us language in the bylaws that stipulates the athlete must know his relatives are seeking extra benefits for themselves, in order for it to indeed be a violation.

That interpretation was just created for this case, but the actual language doesn’t exist.

Best of the Blogs | MrSEC.com

December 3rd, 2010
7:20 am

[...] Tony Barnhart of the AJC says the NCAA got it right with the Newton decision. [...]

Marc Butterick

December 3rd, 2010
7:25 am

I understand the ruling and agree with the decision as the rule reads. The problem is that the NCAA has two differnet visions when it reads a rule. In the case of AJ Green was it becuase he sold a jersy or that he sold a jersy to “an agent”? and four games? a bit harsh, but they “were trying to send a mesage”. That is just a recent incident when a penalty is impressed upon a school because the NCAA has decided to make an example. It is just really hard to imagine that if Auburn was 9-3, that Newton wouldn’t be suspended. The real question is does the NCAA hate TCU that much?

Cameron Newton

December 3rd, 2010
7:35 am

@Marc Butterick

I’m a ***Star Player***. The NCAA only hates the loss of revenue that would occur if TCU goes to Glendale instead of the War Cam Eagles.

Matk

December 3rd, 2010
8:27 am

Thank you for laying the facts out in a logical manner.
Most of the articles I’ve seen are based on pure emotion and or speculation.
Your article is the most objective piece I have seen.

You would make a great defense attorney !

[...] There are two sides: Tony Barnhart believes the NCAA got it right by not punishing him. (AJC) [...]

PeteWill

December 3rd, 2010
9:28 am

Tony, This post is an example of why I follow you and read your blog. Factual, fair, thoughtful and to the point. Very, very fine job on this.

meh

December 3rd, 2010
9:40 am

It didn’t hit me at first but I now know that this ruling can’t be legit. The NCAA acted to quickly. the NCAA never does anything this quickly. something fishy going on here.

Texan

December 3rd, 2010
12:22 pm

Stop the charades. Make the NFL pay for its farm league and pay these players what they’re worth, with full health benefits and insurance. Also, stop letting universities grab their Pell Grants and Student Loans. No tax dollars should ever support a college football team. And for safety’s sake, put a weight limit on who can walk onto the field. No 20-year-old needs to weigh 300 lbs. We’re damaging their health and making our own futures one of paying for diabetes and disability costs. College football programs should foot the bill for all future health costs for their players.

Cheryl4Cam

December 3rd, 2010
1:38 pm

They bottom line is all of you Auburn haters would be singing a different tune if Cam played for the team you cheer for every Saturday and you know it. Just an example of people who are mad they lost and are more than happy to have thought they had the chance to take credit for a win they didn’t earn. War Eagle!!

TGT

December 3rd, 2010
3:30 pm

I wouldn’t say that I am an Auburn “Hater”, and I would have a problem with this if Cam played for Georgia. The last time I checked, football is just a game, and I wouldn’t act so giddy about Auburn’s situation right now because your dream season may turn into a nightmare if it turns out Cam knew all about his daddy’s scheme. If not, good luck to Auburn in their next two games.

da16

December 3rd, 2010
4:41 pm

I’m anxiously awaiting your special place in he!! column about Cecil Newton now that it has been established that he was shopping camburglar….

JAY

December 3rd, 2010
6:43 pm

Read the rule but it appears to me that there should be a violation and Cam Newton ineligible. It is not such a slippery slope. For one, once Cecil Newton stated a price for his, he should have been in violation. Cecil Newton did agree to receive money for his son’s services, and that amount is $180,000. It doesn’t matter that MSU rejected. On his side of the deal, Cecil Newton agreed. If you believe I interpret this too broadly, then I can only say that by not interpreting the law broadly then you open up a can of worms so big that every family member will now negotiate for his son because its not an agreement until there is a handshake. Dirty, dirty.

Ghostposter

December 3rd, 2010
11:48 pm

But the SEC got it WRONG! They have ignored their own bylaw regarding receiving or agreeing to receive extra benefits by ANY member of an athletes family. You nor anyone else can honestly say that Cecil Newton was not going to receive what he was asking for. maybe the NCAA got it right, but once again the SEC blew it.

swgaboy

December 4th, 2010
10:20 am

Tony, I respect your opinion and I hear what you’re saying. But this is still a load of crap and you know it. Yes, schools do get punished for things happening that is beyond its control. It happens all the time. You know as well as I do it happened to UGA back in 1995 when a man that has never set foot in Athens, GA nor had a conversation with anyone at UGA paid for a trip to a camp in Athens (and in Lansing, MI) and yet he was ruled to be a representative of UGA giving improper benefits. I’m not trying to punish Auburn. But what we want is fair treatment across the board. We got nailed. Alabama has been nailed. USC got nailed. Why wasn’t Tennessee nailed when Tenneessee season ticket holders was wiring money to Tee Martin? And why hasn’t Auburn been nailed in this case? It’s about fairness, Tony.

John

December 4th, 2010
12:22 pm

Emotions aside, it does seem that if I were to “solicit” something, I am “agreeing” to accept that certain “something” that I am “soliciting”.

ALAMP

December 4th, 2010
2:04 pm

Wrong. You can “agree” to receive something without there being an agreement to give it from the other party.

JPTigers

December 4th, 2010
8:06 pm

“A wise man once told me, if God is on my side, Who could be against me?” -Cam

SKS88

December 5th, 2010
1:10 pm

Before I start I am NOT an Auburn fan…but here is something to chew on..

2 Theories Behind Newton Case

Theory 1)
Cecil asked for money for his son to play at MSU and the SEC and NCAA covered up Newton case so that Auburn could go to the SEC Championship and National Championship if they beat SC. The Newton case may look bad for the SEC, but it has drawn a huge amount of publicity(money) for football.

Theory 2)
There are a few interesting connections to consider in this case.
Cam Newton played at Florida under Urban Meyer, but also under the offensive coordinator Dan Mullen who is now the MSU head coach. Dan Mullen saw Cam play while he was at Florida and knew what he was capable of. Is it not possible that Mullen and his team of recruiters at MSU approached Cecil Newton? When Cecil Newton did not agree for Cam to go to MSU, Rogers (former MSU player) accuses Cecil Newton of the play-for-pay scandal. Rogers has been under fire for “representing” students before. Everyone should also consider that MSU got off probation in 2008 for recruiting infractions. Did the SEC really want to punish MSU for recruiting infractions again just 2 years later? No, so point the finger at the father Cecil, slap his hand and tell him he can only have limited contact with the athletic department. No harm done right?… Right.

captguitarman

December 5th, 2010
11:26 pm

The whining and crying and pissing and moaning after Auburn spanked the little puppies and Fairley was mean to them, was unprecedented. I never thought the horribly aggrieved, offended, and criminally assaulted SEC hen house could ever exceed the non-stop whining and crying and drooling displayed after that Auburn come from behind ass kicking. Not to mention the endless and pointless wild and baseless fantasy scnenarios they concocted one after the other, and enough conjucture to make Perry Mason spin in this grave. You see, Perry’s clients were never convicted because the Prosecutore, Mr. Burger’s evidence was always either baseless,or full of holes through which Mr. Mason drove semi-tractor trailers. BTW. A contract is not made upon the solicitation of an offer. All you amateur lawyers out there need to understand that a deal is only a deal when both parties say it is a deal. Saying you’ll agree to X dollars, and them someone saying , we will give you X dollars, is not a contract until the soliciting partner says, OK, I’ll take it the X dollars. Why is that you geniuses might ask? Because between the time the solicitation is made, and the time the solicitee says I’ll meet your price, the circumstances may have changed and the soliticing party may want more than X dollars. But enough of that. The kid didn’t know. Unless and until credible evidence is presented that he knew, he should not have to sit playing for a school for which there was credible evidence of involvement. The NCAA got it right. Tony’s column is right on the money. Just as he said, if there is not credible evidence that the kid knew, the NCAA is going to be lenient. The other cases were different. To interpret the rules that the kid always is assumed to know (the “wink-nod” interpretation presented by another sports columnnist last nght) then every star player in the SEC or an any other league could be in big trouble due to all the claims that the kid’s dad, mom, brother, sister, aunt, uncle, etcl talked about money. All those claims would have to be investigated. to be convicted. All this whining and crying and moaning and groaning and all these great fantasy theories, and the wink-nod theory is not evidence, and is just being thrown out by supporters of all the teams that got their butts kicked, or who snatched defeat out of the jaws of victory when they had to face Cam Newton and the Tigers. And please. When the win the BCS, can we skip all this SEC hen house hysteria for a third time?

grimesgw

December 7th, 2010
10:49 pm

Well said, ET. It seems clear to me — primarily because there is zero record of money changing hands AND Cam is not at Mississippi State — that Cecil was up to no good and for whatever reason reversed his course. Let’s remember that the Newtons’ financial records, including those of his church, were provided to the investigators. Nothing was found.

My guess is that he realized the incredible mistake he was making, and being a Godly man, he repented.

Based on the wording, Cam Newton nor Auburn University in no way violated the bylaws. Lawyers — not laymen — write the bylaws, and it’s good that they do, because “solicitation” and “agreement” are unique actions that require different definitions. Furthermore, agreement and implicit agreement are also unique from one another.

Let’s boil it down to an anecdote we can all understand. Say you’ve accepted a new job out of state, and you’ve decided to sell your house. You put it on the market and set a price. (You are soliciting buyers.) A potential buyer comes along. He says he will pay your price — heck he’ll pay above your price. Great! But right before closing, your current employer has makes you a better offer to get you to stay. You accept. You no longer want to sell your house. All you have to do is take it off the market. That simple. Just because you’ve solicited a buyer doesn’t mean you have agreed to sell; it only means you’re accepting offers.