It is another difficult fall for the NCAA and for college sports. The latest blow comes as a result of a series of controversies afflicting one of the nation's premier footballers - Auburn's quarterback Cam Newton. Newton is generally regarded as one of the leading candidates for this year's Heisman Trophy. His team sits near the top of the Bowl Championship Series rankings with a straight shot for the National Championship game. Allegedly, the Tigers' quarterback faced charges of academic cheating while attending the University of Florida. Newton, it was said, turned in another student's paper with his name on it and also handed in a paper purchased off the Internet. (He was also arrested on charges of stealing a laptop.) He left Gainesville before the matters could be adjudicated and parked at Blinn Junior College in Texas before his phoenix-like return to major college sports at Auburn. Auburn's Athletic director adamantly denied the Florida allegations against Newton. Auburn coach Gene Chizik added, with the eloquence we have come to expect of a football coach, that the accusations were "garbage." QB Newton added his own non-denial denial: "I don't want to beat a dead horse talking about it. It's not going to affect me."
The "dead horse" has begun to stink because Newton's name was also recently associated with an attempt by an intermediary to shakedown Mississippi State for six figures in exchange for Cam's signing with the Bulldogs. The alleged "shaker" was Kenny Rogers of Chicago-based Elite Football Preparation. (This Kenny should not be confused with the country singer of the same name who knew "when to hold them, when to fold them, when to walk away, and when to run." This Kenny Rogers is still running away from the story.) Add this tale to the Florida cheating scandals, and the media has had a field day with the star quarterback of the undefeated Auburn Tigers.
What is so troubling about these allegations is that, while they may not have any basis in fact, we are not at all surprised by the content of the stories. They could be true. The NCAA is investigating, but nothing it does will clear the air in the short run. Every mention of Cam Newton on ESPN, Fox Sports, and all others sports outlets will be accompanied by some repetition of the aspersions, albeit with protestations that they are merely "allegations."
The Newton controversy follows the Sports Illustrated story last month about sports agent Josh Luchs payoffs to college athletes in violation of NCAA rules. This upfront money was in exchange for a promise that the football players would sign Luchs as their agent. Luchs names 30 players as recipients of his largess. Apparently, corruption in college sports is rampant.
If the reports are false, Cam Newton deserves to be exonerated quickly, but justice will be delayed, if not denied. It seems plain that Newton's chances for winning the Heisman have been substantially diminished. He may, in fact, be the most outstanding player in collegiate football, but the voters have already been burned by the Reggie Bush fiasco. Bush was awarded the trophy for his spectacular on-field performance for the USC Trojans in 2005. Allegations soon surfaced about indirect payments made to Bush and his family worth over $100,000. It took four years for the NCAA to ultimately sanction USC. Under NCAA by-law 22.214.171.124, an athlete who accepts benefits from agents or marketing representatives would lose his eligibility, and thus Bush was not eligible when he won the prize. Now a star player for the Super Bowl Champion New Orleans Saints, Bush decided to cut his losses. Two months ago, he announced he would forfeit his title as a Heisman winner and return the trophy.
Cam Newton is the unfortunate beneficiary of all this history. He may be deserving of the media skepticism, even though his play on the field has been exemplary. He may simply be a victim. The football he runs and throws so well is purposely designed to take some strange bounces, and Cam Newton will just have to wait until the legal football stops bouncing to make his plans for the future.