The NCAA has reinstated Cam Newton and declared him eligible to play. Your question: When wasn’t he eligible?
The answer: On Tuesday Auburn ruled him ineligible for what the NCAA termed “a violation of amateurism rules.” Lucky for the Tigers, they had no football games scheduled for Nov. 30. On Wednesday the NCAA again conferred eligibility on him, which means Auburn can deploy him in Saturday’s SEC championship game with a lighter heart than the program has known in a month.
It had become increasingly clear that some violation had been committed in the recruitment of Cam Newton, if not necessarily by Auburn. The NCAA noted as much in its statement: “The student-athlete’s father [Cecil Newton] and an owner of a scouting service [Kenny Rogers, once a Mississippi State player] worked together to actively market the student-athlete as a part of a pay-for-play scenario … NCAA Rules (Bylaw 12.3.3) do not allow individuals or entities to represent a prospective student-athlete for compensation to school for an athletic scholarship.”
The NCAA could not allow Auburn to keep playing Newton without making some sort of determination on his status. Imagine the collateral damage if the Tigers had won the SEC title and then, in the month before the BCS title game, lost their quarterback.
From Kevin Lennon of the NCAA: “In determining how a violation impacts a student-athlete’s eligibility, we must consider the young person’s responsibility. Based on the information available to the reinstatement staff at this time, we do not have sufficient evidence that Cam Newton or anyone from Auburn was aware of this activity.”
The strain of the past month could be seen at Auburn on Tuesday, where it was as if the most visible and valuable player in college football had gone missing in plain sight. The Auburn coach was asked at his weekly briefing when Newton might again be made available to the media, something that hadn’t happened for two weeks. Said Gene Chizik: “I’m going to stay on the path of commenting directly on his play.”
A reporter noted that SEC rules call for every player to be available for interviews after its title game and asked if Auburn would comply with league policy. Chizik: “I’m going to stay on the path of making comments on the championship game or the previous 12 games.”
In the course of a 33-minute briefing, Chizik mentioned his best player by name once. (He called him “Cameron.”) Asked by this correspondent if playing for the SEC title in his hometown — Newton is from College Park — might heighten the already-heightened pressure, Chizik didn’t use the third-person singular, meaning “he” or “him.” He went plural, both in the first and third person, all the way.
Chizik: “We’ve had a lot of big moments to get to this point, in my opinion, as a team and individually … We’ve all kind of been here before at some point in the other games. I think that’s big for us, and I think that’s big for our players individually. I’m hoping that this would not be any different. They don’t give me any reason to believe they’ll respond differently.”
It was weird. You couldn’t take two steps in the Loveliest Village of the Plain without hearing or seeing some mention of Cam Newton — “Cam for Heisman” read the sign outside Momma Goldberg’s Deli on Thach Avenue — yet it was as if the man who coaches Newton dared not speak his name.
Asked if Newton’s performance in the comeback against Alabama had been “one for the ages,” Chizik again dodged.”At some point we’re going to have a chance to breathe and look back and realize how monumental that was … I don’t know how many teams in the course of history would have been able to do that.”
On Tuesday, the tight end Philip Lutzenkirchen, who’s from Lassiter High in Marietta, spoke of and essentially for his quarterback. “Business as usual for Cam is basically straight goofball,” Lutzenkirchen told reporters. “He’s always joking around, always messing with everyone. That hasn’t changed at all throughout this year.”
Not 24 hours later, something did change. The NCAA gave Cam Newton its blessing, at least until/unless more evidence comes to light. For all the storms that rose up around him, he was technically ineligible for only one day — a rainy Tuesday of no significance. And now he gets to return to Atlanta and lead his team into the Georgia Dome to play a game of massive importance. Cam the Man is again good to go.