On Tuesday Gene Chizik defended Cam Newton against allegations the coach called “pure garbage” by saying the quarterback had done everything asked of him since arriving at Auburn. But now Auburn needs to ask — nay, to demand — that Newton do something difficult for all involved.
Auburn needs to tell Newton to sit out the Georgia game.
The dynamics have changed since Chizik offered his ringing defense. On Wednesday ESPN reported that two unnamed Mississippi State “recruiters” had heard both Newton and his father Cecil mention money in separate phone conversations. On Thursday Kenny Rogers told ESPN 103.3 in Dallas that the elder Newton was seeking between $100,000 and $180,000 for his son to enroll at Mississippi State.
In nine days we’d gone from two reports that referenced the former Mississippi State quarterback John Bond as a rather distant accuser to stronger allegations that Cecil Newton himself asked for money. And late Friday Mark Winne of Channel 2 Action News reported that Cecil Newton has admitted discussing the possibility of getting money from MSU. (Though the elder Newton claimed no money changed hands and that both Cam Newton and Auburn are clean.)
Rogers has offered names, dates, details and demands. Rogers, who has worked for an agent who is apparently being investigated by the NFL Players Association, might not be the perfect witness, but the murky depths of NCAA violations tend not to be the realm of saints.
As yet, nothing has surfaced to tie Auburn to any player payola, but that’s no longer the issue. It can be an NCAA violation for anyone to seek money or benefits on behalf of a prospect, and now Cecil Newton has apparently admitted as much. Which means Cam Newton could be ineligible. More to the point, it means Auburn has reason to suspect he could be ineligible.
Auburn faces Georgia tomorrow. The Tigers can clinch the SEC West if they win, but there’s more at stake that a berth in the SEC championship game and the clear possibility of playing for the BCS title: There’s the reputation of a university on the line, and it’s a reputation Auburn hasn’t always gone to the wall to protect.
In 1957 Auburn went undefeated and finished No. 1 in the Associated Press poll but couldn’t grace a bowl because it was on probation. In 1993 Auburn went undefeated but was barred from a bowl appearance — and even from appearing on live TV — because it was on probation. In 2003 Auburn’s president and athletic director flew to Sellersburg, Ind., on a private jet owned by the toxic booster Bobby Lowder to meet with Louisville coach Bobby Petrino even though Auburn still had a coach in Tommy Tuberville.
According to the NCAA’s database, Auburn football has been penalized five times for major violations. (This doesn’t count JetGate, which was merely an affront to human decency.) The most recent sanctions were levied in 1993, which suggests the school has become more scrupulous in recent years. Here’s the chance for Auburn University to prove it’s more than a football program with a few classrooms as window dressing. Here’s the chance for Auburn to prove it cares more about being an institution of higher learning than it does the outcome of a given game.
Auburn has cause to doubt that Cam Newton’s recruitment was pristine. It plays Georgia on Saturday but doesn’t play again until it meets Alabama the day after Thanksgiving. That’s nearly two weeks to conduct a thorough in-house investigation, as opposed to relying on the kneejerk “Cam Newton is eligible to play at Auburn” defense. That’s enough time to get some grasp on what’s really what.
The worst thing a school can do is to allow a player of questionable eligibility to represent it. For Auburn to let Newton play against Georgia simply on faith would be to ignore the revelations of the past nine days. It doesn’t much matter if Mississippi State or Florida or the CIA or the KGB was behind these allegations; what matters is that the burden of proof — and proving that something didn’t happen is a massive burden — has fallen on Auburn.
If Newton doesn’t play against Georgia and the Bulldogs win, Auburn will have lost a football game. If Newton plays and is later found to have been ineligible, Auburn will lose much more. For the sake of his latest school, Cam Newton cannot take the field tomorrow.